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<<  -- 2 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


Delia Ibelhauptite's direction, abetted by Giles Cadle's simple sets, Sue Wilmington's costumes, Peter Mumford's imaginative lighting, and Ian Spink's deft choreography unpretentiously reveal this dichotomy, setting the tale of perfervid emotions in the age-old context of diurnal Russian agrarianism. We respond, in the very first scene, to the rhythms of nature's cycles before we've been entrapped in Tatyana's anguish, Lensky's youthfully gauche nobility, or Onegin's aristocratic arrogance, which is true to his old-fashioned lights, though it makes him a villain in a piece dedicated to romantic love. William Dazeley's performance as this suspect hero is, strictly speaking, superb; because he convinces us that Eugene's case against Tatyana's unreasonable passion is reasonable, if not rational, we can be impressed by his social status and even by his lofty physical stature; and can also accept his conversion from his deaf hauteur to his blind love for the girl, as soon as he can see that she has grown up: though, since she is now married, he of all people must have qualms about the social propriety of his declaration of undying devotion. In any case, both man and woman are doomed to mutual misunderstanding: as Dazeley subtly reveals in the regret lurking within his frosty reserve, just as Giselle Allen's Tatyana querulously admits to the hope trembling beneath her bemusement. Yet although this hero and heroine are self-doomed to unfulfilment, this time Frances McCafferty, so sturdy a provider of winning 'cameo' performances for Opera North, is offered an impressively substantial role as the girl's old-time Russian nurse, proffering folk-wisdom in the form of advice or admonishment so well sung and acted that the balance between feeling and reasonableness, if not reason itself, is preserved.

Tatyana's sister Olga is, it would seem, compatibly affianced to the young poet Lensky who, being a poet, ought to have reserves of understanding. Yet although these young people are not, like Tatyana and Onegin, polar opposites, they cannot form a durable relationship, and are brusquely sundered by death as a consequence of human cussedness. Lensky (sung by Iain Paton with appropriately shaky awareness of his ambiguous nature), piteously lacks self-knowledge; whilst Olga (whose surface charm is innocently evident in Cecile van de Sant's singing and acting) is not much more than vacantly vacuous and frivolously flirtatious, meaning no harm but making it in abundance. Pushkin's greatness is nowhere more evident than in his realisation that such impercipience undoes everybody. Lensky displays lunatically jealous fury when, at Tatyana's birthday party, Olga lazily and hazily flirts with Onegin; imbecile bickerings, rooted in self-deceit, culminate in Lensky's challenging Onegin to a duel: in which, though both men disown yet pridefully cannot abandon their quarrel, the young Lensky is slain. The scene ends with a brilliant visual image in which the stuffed heads of aristocrat-slaughtered stags are suddenly illuminated on the walls, glaring at us more grotesquely than nobly, and perhaps more comically than grotesquely. Tchaikovsky's trenchant music here rivals Pushkin's puncturing of human pretention.

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Copyright © 12 May 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK




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