Monday, 15 August 2022

Garsington opens with a mirrored splendour

VISITING Garsington Opera is an experience like no other. There you will enjoy the highest quality

VISITING Garsington Opera is an experience like no other. There you will enjoy the highest quality opera performed in the glorious grounds of the Wormsley estate near Stokenchurch.

At 3pm the cars start to arrive. Out pile the visitors, complete with food baskets, wine coolers and sun hats to make their way to the picnic tents surrounding the deer park and the lake.

Arriving early, there is plenty to do and see before curtain-up. Excited chattering crowds in all their finery pile on to the courtesy vintage bus which takes them through the estate to visit the beautiful 18th century walled gardens.

Some take afternoon tea in the pavilion overlooking the immaculate cricket pitch while others visit the champagne bar on the upper terrace and admire the breathtaking views across the Chiltern hills.

Such as it was last Sunday, an afternoon and evening bathed in glorious sunshine.

Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s most famous opera and set to Pushkin’s novel in verse, was unusual for its time. Far removed from the tragedy and excess theatricality of its Italian and German counterparts, Tchaikovsky intended his opera’s music to express simpler, everyday and universal human emotions.

In this new production by Michael Boyd, this simplicity was emphasised with minimal yet clever staging. The first half followed fairly conventional lines in its storytelling, although Natalya Romaniw as Tatyana left us in no doubt as to the conflict raging inside her: hidden yearnings contained within a socially constrained exterior.

Her singing was passionate and hugely powerful as she expressed her love for Onegin, yet also fully composed and dignified as she underwent the humiliation of his outright rejection of her.

Roderick Williams was a convincing Onegin, his rich baritone voice delivered with warmth and a finesse not generally heard in this role.

Meanwhile, Oleksiy Palchykov thrilled on the high notes as an ardent Lensky with his sweetheart Olga, a sparkling Jurgita Adamonyte. A special mention too for Kathleen Wilkinson, as Tatyana’s old nursemaid Filippyevna, who must be complimented for her excellent contribution as a true babushka!

The opening of the second half brought a new energy. The famous Onegin Waltz was used as a musical transition for a cleverly choreographed montage showing, against a series of revolving mirrors, what had happened to Onegin in the years since he fatally shot his friend Lensky in a duel.

Indeed, dancing was a prominent feature of the production throughout, with detailed balletic sequences complementing the lengthier chorus numbers and musical interludes.

The highlight after the interval was without doubt the compelling singing of Brindley Sherratt in Prince Gremin’s famous aria — his heartfelt low notes achieving an authentic Russian depth.

The chorus, switching between peasants and aristocratic guests was full-voiced and impressively resonant throughout.

They were a fine match for the Garsington Orchestra, themselves producing a wonderful sound under their first-rate conductor Douglas Boyd, also the artistic director of Garsington Opera.

Review: Maureen Idowu

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