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Ryedale Festival Opera in Eugene Onegin; Ampleforth College Theatre
Tchaikovsky’s seven lyrical scenes, alias his finest opera, cannot have been an obvious choice for Ryedale’s now traditional opera. A large orchestra, a potentially sumptuous scenario and period costumes, might have proved daunting to lesser mortals. But Ryedale has John Warrack to translate and inspire.
Naturally it takes a minute or two to acclimatise to an orchestra of only 14. But when they play as supremely as they did for Matthew Willis, you sit back and relax. The numbers suit the small hall. You don’t need big voices here either, although both Onegin and Tatiana are inclined to deliver enough for Leeds Grand. On a stage this restricted, a strong chorus of nine is plenty and reacts smoothly to Rosie Heafford’s choreography.
Jack Furness’s production benefits from clearing the stage right to the back wall, with Giulia Scrimieri understandably content to limit her permanent set to three birch trunks and a large spray of branches. Props are kept to essentials.
The orchestra inhabits stage right, opposite a shallow dais. Closed-circuit screens allow the singers to see the beat behind them. The staging works well, right down to slow-motion chorus miming when principals deserve attention.
Furness’s only mistake is to import two dancers, who add little to our understanding and less to our enjoyment, especially when they appear in modern dress.
Nadine Livingstone’s Tatyana is at her best in the Letter Scene when she floats some lovely tone that speaks of inner radiance. Elsewhere’ she is inclined to confuse intensity with volume, which can add an unwanted edge to her sound.
Similarly, Ashley Riches offers a stone-faced Onegin at first where urbanity ought to mollify stentorian resonance. But he mellows considerably in Act 3. The lovers’ final confrontation is thrillingly theatrical.
Sam Furness is a vivid, musical Lensky, with a poignant monologue before the duel. Charlotte Tetley’s lively Olga makes a strong impression, Jemma Brown’s maternal nurse boasts the best diction, Sophie Yelland is a poised Larina, and Timothy Dickinson sports excellent legato in Gremin’s aria. Ryland Davies’s finesse as Triquet is an extra treat.
Willis varies the momentum quite brilliantly. With better projection of Warrack’s deft translation, the evening would be a triumph. Still, it comes close.