The ill-fated love of Tatyana Larina and Eugene Onegin, hers for him and finally his for her, makes this one of the most involving of operas and a natural choice for Mid Wales Opera’s new team of director Richard Studer and conductor Jonathan Lyness. And yet, in their new production, it’s the tragedy of the other couple in the story, Olga and Lensky, whose relationship implodes because of Onegin’s emotional gaming, that emerges almost more strongly. Ailsa Mainwaring’s Olga and Robyn Lyn Evans’s Lensky sing and act with feeling, bringing greater clarity to the words of David Lloyd-Jones’s English translation than anyone else.
Studer’s design keeps things simple. In a period setting, with the sharp verticals of poles for silver birch, the visual focus is the three doorways set in a wall whose frieze has wreaths of laurels, the latter a nod to the creative hopes of Lensky, the poet whom Onegin kills in a duel. The laurels also commemorate Pushkin, whose verse-novel so fired Tchaikovsky’s imagination. That wonderful lyricism never fails to hold the listener and, within the chamber forces of Ensemble Cymru, many of the solo lines convey the passion well. Small scale does mean compromise, though, and the grand St Petersburg ball is staged from the perspective of the ante-room, the poles now ironic pillars.
George von Bergen sings the title role robustly but with body language as frozen as he makes Onegin’s heart. It’s only when falling to his knees before Tatyana (the expressive if not yet wholly convincing Elizabeth Karani), that a musical spark ignites, rather too late.