His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth
reviewed by Alice Woode
Mood-wise, this production of Onegin near-perfectly captures the autumnal essence of Pushkin’s immortal tale of love and despair.
In visual terms, its muted, finely balanced colours in both lighting, costumes and decor evoke bittersweet nuances of a tale of love spurned and lost, disappointment and violent death.
Jayne Smeulders is an altogether convincing Tatiana. In the famous letter scene, she could hardly be faulted, beautifully conveying the tragic heroine’s infatuation with Onegin and her devastation when she realises he does not return her affections. Melissa Boniface, too, is entirely persuasive as Tatiana’s sister Olga.
Lavish bouquets for the manner in which technical skill and expressiveness blend to often moving effect in all the pas de deux in which Smeulders and Boniface are partnered by Jiri Jelinek in the title role and Dane Holland as Lensky; these were the gems of the production, with finely honed technique and a world of disciplined emotion.
It was only in the duel scene where inspiration seemed to flag; it lacked the intensity and high drama that were needed.
One of the many delights of the production is the quality of the corps de ballet. With disciplined fluidity of movement and first rate ensemble, the corps’ dancing is like a silver thread through the production. The charm-laden ball scene in which both young and decrepit give comic point and meaning to the dance is in the best sense of the word diverting. Whether light-hearted or sombre, the corps come up trumps again and again. Carole Hill does wonders as Tatiana’s often hilariously fussy nursemaid.
Although the dancing is to the music of Tchaikowsky, one of the greatest of all composers for the ballet, none of it, of course, is purpose-written for the dance. Happily, though, nearly all of it fits seamlessly into the late John Cranko’s superlative choreography. A good many episodes are danced to orchestrations of some of the composer’s short pieces for piano: the haunting Autumn and the quiet rapture of the Barcarolle (both from The Seasons) – and the exquisite Nocturne from opus 19. Again and again, one is able to savour how cleverly Cranko’s choreography blends both movement and music to beguiling effect.
Imaginative lighting, too, does much to underscore the autumnal nature of the piece, an impression further enhanced by the use of Elizabeth Dalton’s wing scenery depicting, inter alia, a leafy forest that brings a charming, rather faded, mid-19th-century perspective to the production. Dalton also designed the costumes worn with great flair by the company.
At times, one wished for rather more uniform tonal sheen from the string section of the WASO.