I'm beginning to have the slight suspicion that Eugene Onegin is one of those stories which is not for me, as this is the second version of it I've seen which left me cold, though it may not have been helped by the fact I was labouring under a nasty cold to start with.
The first problem was the rather baffling concept, the purpose of which was no clearer to me at the end than at the beginning. Rimas Tuminas has decided to set the adaptation in a dance studio in which various men (whose reasons for being there are also opaque) decide to start reciting Pushkin's poem. The effect of this peculiar arrangement was to put a hurdle between me and a real emotional engagement with the narrative from the beginning because I couldn't work out who they were and I didn't really believe in them.
This effect is compounded a lot of the time by the way the central characters of the story are directed. I suppose the point of the unnatural movement associated with the Olga/Lensky flirtation is an argument that we should not really be taking it seriously but this consequently makes it difficult to care when Lensky is shot. Why Olga walks around with an accordian strapped to her chest for most of the evening was beyond me. Much the most interesting aspect of the direction is the suggestion of doubling of Onegin – there appeared to me to be both a young and old Onegin – except that in the programme the older one is listed as a retired hussar (Vladimir Simonov who took this role was the finest individual performer of the evening). Presumably my lack of in depth knowledge of the text is letting me down here, though I'll repeat a basic opinion that a staging should be comprehensible without recourse to text or programme notes. The doubling has potential, but it is only intermittently followed through. There are other places when something deeper emerges – oddly (as was also the case in the recent Royal Opera production of the Tchaikovsky version) among the most emotionally convincing came in Tatyana's interactions with the Prince – but it isn't sustained through the gruelling three plus hours of this show.
Meanwhile, around the central narrative, there is a great deal of odd extra business going on – mainly the province of the nine female members of the ballet school class who form a rather bizarre chorus – are they additional sisters of Tatyana and Olga, servants of the house, unexplained hangers on? Some of this delivery and movement can be beautiful but it didn't form a convincing whole, and I couldn't get past my basic puzzlement as to what they were all doing there to begin with. There were also the usual moments of complete bafflement – the highlight here being the white rabbit who suddenly appears during the ensemble's interminable journey to Moscow.
Last summer in Edinburgh I was wowed by another Russian epic The War, which packed real emotional punch and was visually stunning. The poster for this production (of Tatyana on a swing) had led me to hope for a similar visual richness, but I'm afraid this was unrealised. For much of the show the stage is fairly bare apart from the large mirror (which added little) at the back and the dance rail. In the second half there are some visually striking moments – the snow fall (though its use the second time has correspondingly less magic) and the corps de ballet on the swings (but the question of why they're there again undermines it). The poetry of the text came across clearly but the staging often seemed to occupy a different disconnected world.
There were evidently some in the audience who thought it was a stunning evening. For me it committed what I have previously recorded as one of my major theatrical crimes – particularly during the second half I was neither amused nor moved, but bored. If you have not obtained a ticket for this show I wouldn't worry. If you have, alcoholic refreshment in the interval is advisable.