"Deborah Warner's hauntingly beautiful and moving new staging of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece"
"Warner's Onegin is one of the strongest interpretations in its emotional impact: cutting straight to the heart of the work, she shows how Onegin is simultaneously and devastatingly about two colliding Russian societies - rustic provincialism and cosmopolitan decadence - and three wasted lives." Opera Magazine / January 2012
"This is a co-production with the Met and is a perfect opera for first timers: the design and lighting are stunning, the singing superb as befits the ENO ...This is a classy and timeless production." Melinda Hughes / SpearsWMS.com / 22 November 2011
"LONDON – The Metropolitan Opera will not see Deborah Warner’s new production of “Eugene Onegin” until 2013, when she makes her house debut, but it will certainly be worth the wait for those who like their opera served up traditionally. This co-production between the Met and English National Opera is that rare thing in today’s opera world -- a clean, faithful telling of the story, as envisaged by the composer.
For ENO audiences, it may have come as something of a shock not to have the action enlivened by Nazi storm troopers, naked penises or schoolboys smoking dope, but they can probably cope. For in Warner’s vision, viewed Nov. 19 at the London Coliseum, traditional does not mean boring. Warner simply mines deeply into the story and tells it classically, with great elegance.
Olga and Tatyana are the picture of blushing modesty, Onegin and Lensky believable young bucks and the vexed relations between them all are closely observed and beautifully portrayed on stage. This is a production with dramatic pauses, making the silence work as hard as the music. And there are touches here and there that throw new light on the story.
Tatyana barricades herself in at the beginning of the Letter Scene, singing, “If I must die for this, so be it,” opening the possibility that she is contemplating suicide, so profound are her doomed feelings for Onegin, and we get a real sense of the enormity of her misplaced love. In the end, of course, she just writes her love letter, diving to the floor to write feverishly before falling into a reverie. As she comes out of it, she dares to imagine Onegin’s hands on her. It is passionate, sensual and completely believable.
This believability is much aided by the fact that the story is set in its own period, or to be precise, in the period of the opera rather than the period of Pushkin’s original tale. Designer Tom Pye has done a grand job in conjuring up the time. Act 1 is set in a dusty wooden barn with huge doors; for Act 3 the stage is dominated by eight huge pillars, the ballroom sparkling with mirrored side walls. These are sets that will no doubt elicit applause in New York, though British audiences are less eager to reward designers in this way. The whole thing is beautifully lit by Jean Kalman, and Chloe Obolensky’s characterful costumes are completely right for this story of grand passions, barely under control.
It all looks so right that it is perhaps more difficult to accept the score in English. For all the look of the thing, it sounded about as Russian as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. This became less of a problem as the evening progressed and Warner’s vision drew us in, and ENO was certainly fielding some fine vocal talent.
“Onegin” is a slow starter, with an awful lot of scene setting and chorus work that is pretty much superfluous to the plot, but Warner went all out to make the stage-filling scenes work, with endless invention (though why a chef complete with hat was dancing at the St Petersburg ball was unclear). The bolstered ENO Chorus sang magnificently, and played out Warner’s vision as if their lives depended on it. The crowd reaction to Monsieur Triquet’s set piece is particularly nicely observed.
There was strong sense that Warner felt completely comfortable with the story, something that cannot be taken for granted in modern opera productions. The duel scene alone is worth the ticket price; she creates a stark, unforgiving landscape, truly capturing the horrific reality of the event. The same attention to detail imbues the whole work, as the passion and the consequent awkwardness and despair are laid out before us in all their raw reality.
In pre-performance publicity, Warner said: “’Eugene Onegin’ stretches the resources of any opera house to its limits – the challenge is legendary – but the rewards for an audience in this masterpiece of music theatre are extraordinary. It is a privilege to be given this opportunity to work together with the ENO and the Met on this new production.”
English National Opera likes to keep a reputation for innovation and experimentation, which is no bad goal, but this “Eugene Onegin” is proof positive that it can still deliver first-class traditional opera, and will no doubt keep the box office busy for the rest of the run." Keith Clarke / Musical America / 22 November 2011
"Deborah Warner’s engrossing new production of “Eugene Onegin” at the E.N.O. comes as a tonic."
"Tchaikovsky’s opera is one of the most emotionally powerful in the repertoire, and after a series of several high-profile deconstructive interpretations, most recently Stefan Herheim’s distorted staging in Amsterdam, a production that recognizes this fundamental fact is long overdue.
It says something about the approach that “Onegin” is a co-production not with a radical house like the Komische Oper but the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Yet while Ms. Warner’s orientation is traditional, setting the opera firmly in the 19th century, she is ever on the lookout for distinctive ways to enrich the emotional content. Onegin is his usual condescending self, yet he also has feelings that struggle to break through his cool veneer. Just before the ill-fated duel with his friend Lensky — which Ms. Warner lets you know he regards with utter disbelief — he reluctantly shakes Lensky’s outstretched hand, then gives him a passionate embrace.
Onegin, of course, breaks down entirely when, now smitten by Tatyana — the girl he haughtily rejected two acts before — she turns the tables and rejects him, while admitting she still loves him. In a moment charged with tension, Ms. Warner inserts a long silence after Tatyana gives Onegin a farewell kiss and resolutely departs the stage. Only when she is gone does Onegin issue his final cry of despair."
"Edward Gardner’s superb conducting, always there to stretch out a pregnant phrase, ensures that at every turn the music supports what Ms. Warner achieves on stage." George Loomis / New York Times / 22 November 2011
"Deborah Warner's superb production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece scores both visually and emotionally
Fully deserving of its status as the best-loved Russian opera, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Eugene Onegin has been lucky on the British stage. Yet few past productions have come near Deborah Warner’s new English National Opera staging for its mixture of haunting visual and emotional impact: cutting straight to the heart of the work, she shows how Onegin is simultaneously about two colliding Russian societies – rustic provincialism and cosmopolitan decadence – and three wasted lives." John Allison / Sunday Telegraph / 21 November 2011
"It doesn’t rest on its lyrical laurels
Deborah Warner’s production of Eugene Onegin for English National Opera offers drama and dynamism
Warner has worked with sensitivity and skill." Paul Driver / Sunday Times / 20 November 2011
"There are so many wonderful features in the ENO's new production of Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin that it is difficult to know where to start.
Outstanding performances from all the principal singers, wonderful cameos from some of the supporting cast, meticulous and intelligent direction from Deborah Warner, impressive sets by Tom Pye, and a magnificent interpretation of the music by conductor Edward Gardner all add up to one of the finest productions that I have seen at the London Coliseum." William Hartston / Daily Express / 16 November 2011
"A performance that has quality written all over it." Richard Fairman / Financial Times / 14 November 2011
"Director Deborah Warner has described the challenge of staging Eugene Onegin as “legendary” – but she has risen to it with extraordinary aplomb, and her entirely unpretentious new production gels perfectly with Tchaikovsky’s creation." Lottie Greenhow / Music OMH / 15 November 2011
"Stage director Deborah Warner and, in particular, her designer team provide a tasteful presentation of Tchaikovsky's opera or, to be more precise, Tchaikovsky's lyric scenes in three acts based on Pushkin's novel.
Warner is clearly mindful of Tchaikovsky's score and she subordinates all stage business to the music with evident humility. Arguably such directorial approach should be taken for granted but it does not seem to be fashionable among stage directors.
Warner does not try to find a new angle for presenting the Pushkin/Tchaikovsky tale; she stands back and lets the story and music unfold without undue interference. I for one welcome this approach. Rather than wondering what the director means and why she has staged the piece in a certain way, I was able sit back and enjoy the inherent drama of the story and music. Warner's presentation is not as challenging as, for instance, Dmitri Tcherniakov's staging for the Bolshoi Opera (shown in London in the summer of 2010) or Balázs Kovalik's interpretation for the Budapest Opera House (April 2011). But while I understood Tcherniakov's logic of making a big table as the central focus throughout the opera (thus almost entirely ignoring Tchaikovsky's dance music) and I also grasped the point in representing different scenes and different characters in specific colours throughout in Kovalik's staging, in both cases I was somewhat deprived of the visual presentation of Tchaikovsky's own colours in his rich score. Tchernakov and Kovalik impose their interpretation while Warner trusts her audience's intelligence and allows undisturbed entertainment." Agnes Kory / Musical Criticism / 15 November 2011
"Most pleasing of all, Deborah Warner and Tom Pye, the director and designer respectively, give the impression that they have been lunching with Pushkin himself, so thoroughly is the staging steeped in the moods and vistas of 19th-century Russia. Pye’s frontcloths are stunning: act by act the countryside becomes bleaker and snowier, then a frozen St Petersburg waterfront extinguishes all joy. And his uncluttered period sets are enhanced by Jean Kalman’s lighting. The blazing sunrise as Tatyana finishes her letter is the most powerful symbolic moment.
Warner’s direction, too, is naturalistic and intelligent. The duel, between two men whose bond is rent asunder by wounded pride, is superb theatre: brutal and heartbreaking. And although the lingering kiss that Onegin plants on the rejected Tatyana’s lips seems incongruous at the time, Warner’s masterstroke is to reprise it, with tables turned, at the end. Another directorial liberty — ten seconds of silence inserted before Onegin’s last despairing outburst — strikes me as equally justified. After all, he’s staring at emotional extinction." Richard Morrison / The Times / 14 November 2011
"How nice to be able to record a significant success for ENO in a classic work. Deborah Warner’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera is broadly traditional, and much of it looks extremely handsome. The opening tableau of the third act, where the St Petersburg ballroom is invaded by guests dancing a polonaise, even gets a spontaneous round of applause." George Hall / The Stage / 14 November 2011
"In a recent interview, Deborah Warner said that it was vital for audiences to be "immediately surprised". Her new production of Tchaikovsky's lyrical masterpiece for English National Opera achieves just that, if only in that, at first glance it seems so old-school – not what we expect from Warner, nor, with the odd exception, from ENO. Tom Pye's naturalistic sets stretch right up into the flies. The chorus, on excellent form, has been augmented: there are bustling extras, dancers, even a few cute children. Perhaps the clue is that this is ENO's latest joint staging with the New York Met: while UK audiences don't applaud scenery until after at least two interval drinks, those across the Atlantic are less inhibited.
All this, though, is really just window dressing. Warner is less interested in spectacle than in what happens on the fringes, and her direction can be revealing: we realise, for example, that Tatyana has seen Onegin before, and is already fixating on him. Yet the way in which Larina passively watches her daughter Olga's potential disgrace at the party the mother is hosting doesn't ring true.
Still, Warner trusts the opera's ability to tell its own story, and this, in combination with a searing orchestral performance under Edward Gardner, means the story has a moving impact. The music sounds wonderful. In the midst of it, Gardner and Warner dare moments of silence: in the letter scene; and in very different circumstances, when Tatyana and Onegin kiss before parting – in which the audience holds its breath." Erica Jeal / Guardian / 13 November 2011
"Deborah Warner directs ENO's production (co-produced with the Met) with an all-seeing eye for detail. Tom Pye's sets and Chloe Obolensky's period costumes are jaw-dropping. Each scene is preceded by a landscape projected onto a screen the size of the full stage which places us straight into the location (idyllic farmland, frozen woods, the river Neva in St Petersburg). The farmhouse of the first act perfectly depicts the idyllic rural gentility, slightly faded, of the Larina family. The sunrise as Tatyana seals her letter is an exceptional piece of lighting. The Act II party for Tatyana's name day is quite beautifully directed: the costumes are gorgeous but not quite fashionable (Madame Larina, nostalgic for the good old days, hasn't bought a new dress for years, and it shows), the dances are fun but rather rustic, the children are happy and playful until servants have to shoo them away when things turn nasty. The duel is in a minimalist frozen forest, glistening with the pale light of dawn and the ball in St Petersburg is in an extraordinary set in which the dancers weave between eight giant marble columns - the costumes are opulent and the height of fashion, the Polonaise and Ecossaise danced with verve and elegance." David Karlin / Bachtrack online / 13 November 2011
"If you are fed up with opera stripping off, shooting up and trying to engage with modern realities, then I have good news. Lyrical and gentle in tone, fluent and unassertive in interpretation, Deborah Warner’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin may safely be recommended to the primmest maiden aunt with the most conservative tastes." Rupert Christiansen / Telegraph / 14 November 2011
"Expectations ran high for ENO’s new staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece. Not only was it music director Ed Gardner’s first appearance of the season but this staging of Eugene Onegin had been allocated to one of the country’s most respected theatre and opera directors, Deborah Warner. Throw into the mix a mouth-watering cast and you have all the ingredients for a resounding success, so it’s good to report that a suitably elated first night audience greeted the performance with a thunderous ovation and rightly so, for this staging is yet another feather in ENO’s cap and continues their unbroken run of successes." Keith McDonnell / The Stage / 12 November 2011
"Deborah Warner’s new production (with Metropolitan Opera, New York) for English National Opera of Eugene Onegin is every bit as traditional and faithful to its early-nineteenth-century period as the one it replaces. Huge projections announce each of the seven scenes, with images of the Russian countryside, St Petersburg and, very importantly, the change of seasons providing instant access to the Russian soul. At first it seemed that the staging would be rather lumbered by having the first three scenes (the whole of Act One) set in a very big, very realistic barn. It was fine for Scene 1, needed more justification for Tatyana’s bedroom – although the arrival of dawn was beautifully staged – and by the third, when Onegin returns the fateful letter, you wondered if Tatyana ever left the place. The direction and look of the opening is wonderful. The grouping of Madame Larina and the nurse and of Tatyana and Olga made crystal-clear the sad-but-true triumph of experience over hope, the realities of ageing and making-do and the comfort of memories against youth’s flighty, romantic dreams. It’s an inspired bit of staging to make the gathering-in of the harvest a religious procession, with priests, banners and icons, although the choreography for the brief ‘Rite of Autumn’ is self-consciously arty. The sets for the Larina party, the duel and the St Petersburg ball are very evocative, the grandeur of the latter set, a colonnade on a reflective floor, drawing applause. It’s a thoroughly observed picture with always something to look at." Peter Reed / Classical Source / 12 November 2011