Tag Archives: Nicholas Lester

A Fool Aloof

EUGENE ONEGIN

Birmingham Hippodrome, Friday 3rd November, 2017

 

Welsh National Opera’s autumn season is all about the Russians.  Tonight, it’s Tchaikovsky’s melodrama about a moody outcast and his effect on others.  Young Tatyana takes a fancy to the aloof stranger who comes visiting with a friend.  She rapidly falls head over heels.  He turns her down, gets into a row with his best mate and shoots him dead in a duel.  Years later, after travelling, Onegin returns to declare his love to Tatyana but she has married a prince and so Onegin is left alone and even more miserable than he at first pretended.

So much for the plot.  What matters here is the execution.  Natalya Romaniw shines as the love-struck Tatyana, especially in her extended aria in which she writes a letter to Onegin, an outpouring of emotion.  Onegin himself (Nicholas Lester) stalks around in black like Hamlet disguised as an undertaker, all mean and moody – he comes alive in the scene with his BFF, Lensky (Jason Bridges) during which they fail to find a way to cancel their duel.  The duel scene is the best of the opera, combining high emotion with action.  Bridges’s searing tenor brings the house down, and there is an impressive cameo from Miklos Sebestyen as the Prince, who comes across as a Zarastro figure – not the only Mozartian touch about Tchaikovsky’s work; everything from the orchestration to the structure (duets developing into quartets, for example) pays homage to Tchaikovsky’s favourite and mine.  There is pleasing support from Liuba Sokolova as Tatyana’s Nanny and Camilla Roberts as her mother.  Joe Roche makes his mark in an amusing appearance as Monsieur Triquet.

As ever, the WNO chorus is in superb voice – but their dancing, especially at the formal ball, needs polish.  They don’t look like they’re enjoying it which detracts from Onegin’s aloofness and boredom.  The mighty WNO orchestra plays flawlessly under the baton of Latvian conductor Ainars Rubikis, making his debut with WNO.

Tobias Hoheisel’s set design features windows, combining interiors and exteriors, which probably says something about people’s outer facades and their inner feelings, or insiders and outsiders – at times I find it too gloomy to fit with the lighter parts of the libretto.  There is humour here that is fighting against the murkiness of the setting and Andreas Gruters’s atmospheric lighting.

The nature of the material is such that all the action comes in the second act and Onegin’s devastation at the end – I think this production needs to make more of the frivolity of the other aspects for greater contrast with the darker elements and to emphasise Onegin’s otherness.  Tchaikovsky does well to emulate Mozart’s sound palette but he cannot match the Austrian’s sense of the dramatic or indeed the comic.

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He’s behind you! Natalya Romaniw as Tatyana and Nicholas Lester as Onegin (Photo: Betina Skovbro)

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A Date with the Don

DON GIOVANNI

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 10th May, 2016

 

English Touring Opera brings a new production of what, in my view, is the finest opera ever written – I always look forward to new productions with a mix of excitement and trepidation: will I be outraged by liberties taken with staging and interpretation?

Prepared to vent my dismay, I take my seat…

The setting is 1900s Vienna, or rather beneath the city.  Apparently it was quite the thing back in the day: the workers who had built the network of tunnels ended up living down there, with nowhere else to go.  My first impression is that Anna Fleischle’s set may be too dark and gloomy for the more humorous sections… but it turns out my worries are unfounded.  If anything the humour shines through.  The set and the atmospheric lighting (by Guy Hoare) cannot swamp the irrepressible Don Giovanni or indeed Mozart’s rich and vibrant score.

Nicholas Lester is a tall, dark and handsome Don Giovanni – you want your lotharios to be swoonsome and he most certainly is.  His baritone is seductive, like being tempted with melted dark chocolate, and his hearty laughter is delicious.  He forms an hilarious double-act with his servant Leporello (a marvellous Matthew Stiff), here looking rather well-fed, so we can take his protestations about the privations he suffers with a whole peck of salt.  Leporello’s catalogue aria is one of the comedy highlights of the night.

Ania Jeruc’s Donna Elvira is suitably wild-eyed, driven to derangement by her undying devotion to Giovanni.  Strident but never shrill, Jeruc brings a touch of the exotic to the piece.

Gillian Ramm’s Donna Anna may be small in stature but she’s a powerhouse of emotion, and she is paired with a Don Ottavio (Robyn Lyn Evans) that for once actually seems to have a pair himself.  This Ottavio is upright, decent and above all strong – you don’t always get that.

Lucy Hall is sweet and funny as peasant bride Zerlina – her ‘Beat me’ aria is cute and flirtatious.  Bradley Travis brings out handsome husband-to-be Masetto’s hotheadedness and indignation.

We’re all waiting to see how the murdered Commendatore (Piotr Lempa) will be staged, when he returns to take Don Giovanni to Hell.  Here the tunnels and shadows of the underground setting come into their own.  A chorus of demons, here reminiscent of the workers who built the place, stand sinisterly around Giovanni, before carrying him away like pallbearers.

John Andrews conducts with verve – all the colours of Mozart’s impeccable score are brought out, sometimes at quite a lick.

A thrilling, witty production (the translation by Jeremy Sams is clever and laugh-out-loud funny) it is also stylish and powerful.  The design supports the action – there are glimpses of colour reminiscent of Gustav Klimt – director Lloyd Wood’s ideas enhance the libretto, and the actor-singers are the focus of the production.

Every time I hear it, I marvel that something so wonderful can exist, can be created by a human being.  This production by English Touring Opera reaffirms the notion that Don Giovanni is one of humanity’s finest achievements.

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Climbing the walls – Don Giovanni and Leporello (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)