Eugene Onegin

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

DEFECATION, bare buttocks and ballet: Scottish Opera’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s best-loved opera is nothing if not attention-grabbing at the beginning of each of its three acts.

The first of these was the only unscheduled event in Oliver Mears’s startling staging, the new director of the Royal Opera House fulfilling a commitment made before his appointment to the Covent Garden job. Evidently stage struck, George the horse, on whose back Onegin makes his entrance copiously manured the carpet of Tatyana’s country house, an eventuality clearly foreseen by the efficiency with which it was dealt.

As well as his equestrian skills, Australian baritone Samuel Dale Johnson is later required to appear naked in the bath, in a performance that transcends such distractions by being beautifully measured and characterful as well as excellently sung.

The ballet comes in the equally eloquent form of former Scottish Ballet star Eve Mutso, choreographed by her artistic director there, Ashley Page, by which time such a potentially surprising ingredient hardly seems remarkable at all. Mears supplies the production with a mesmerising sequence of stage pictures, tableaux involving the chorus in silhouette, and weather battering the stage-height shutters. This Onegin is a highly eventful 200 minutes, which is both a strength and a weakness.

With her story framed in mind of her silent older self (Rosy Sanders), Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw is a wonderful Tatyana, and once again the company has assembled a cast that is superb right across the board, while the chorus sing and move with great skill and Stuart Stratford directs an orchestra in top form in the pit.

If this was to be your introduction to the possibilities of staged opera, it is assuredly a night you are not likely to forget in a hurry, but if you treasure any sense of Tchaikovsky’s adaptation of Pushkin’s story as an intimate chamber piece – as it can also so successfully be done – you might possibly find this production all just a bit rich.