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Royal Ballet Onegin Royal Opera House 18 Jan 2020, 13:30
The last time I saw the Royal Ballet's Onegin, I wrote:
"That night I saw something wonderful. Cranko's Onegin danced by Matthew Golding in the title role, Natalia Osipova as Tatiana, Matthew Ball as Lensky and Bennet Gartside as Prince Gremin. It was quite simply the most enjoyable performance by the Royal Ballet that I had seen since the days of Sibley and Dowell." (See Onegin: the most enjoyable performance that I have seen at the House since Sibley and Dowell 21 Feb 2015).Although I knew what to expect and saw a very different interpretation with Thiago Soares in the title role, Itziar Mendizabal as Tatiana, David Donnelly as Lensky and Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Olga, I was as thrilled second time around as I had been the first time I saw the ballet.
As before, it was the choreography that thrilled me. In my 2015 review, I described John Cranko as my favourite choreographer of all time and so he remains. I said: "Cranko understood and interpreted music in a way that produces a fluency that is instantly recognizable but hard to describe". But that was not all. I added: "He was also a great storyteller with a sense of humour." Not so much humour perhaps as in The Taming of the Shrew which remains my favourite work by Cranko but there is a great story of which many of us in the English speaking world would otherwise have been unaware.
Soares's Onegin was very different from Golding's. I had described Goldring's portrayal as "steely, amoral but ultimately foolish" but I saw complexities in Onegin's character that I had missed before. I believe that he was conflicted and he had certainly matured between his duel with Lensky and his reacquaintance with Tatiana in St Petersburg. Maybe I would have picked that up from seeing the ballet again but I am not sure. Soares has the ability to communicate mood and maybe even thought.
I also learnt something new about Tatiana from Mendizabal. With Osipova I sensed revenge in the last act but Mendizabal seemed much more conflicted. It was if she still had feelings for Onegin despite the way he had humiliated her at her party and the quite unnecessary duel with Lemsky. She must have known that running away with him would have ruined her. She would have thought that if he was capable of dropping her once he could do it again. She had a good husband. All that anyone could want. And yet, She was tempted. Happily, she listened to her head rather than her heart and sent Onegin packing. Some ballets do have a happy ending.
Grace Hinkis was a great Olga and Donnelly a loyal but headstrong Lensky. Watching the run-up to the duel was like watching a video of a train crash in slow motion. A bit like the scene in Romeo and Juliet where Mercution picks a fight with Tybalt that possibly end well.
There are some steps for the corps that must require lots of rehearsing. For instance, the folk dance towards the end of Act I with the girls' jetés on the arms of their partners who march off stage but do not run.
Jurgen Rose's set designs, particularly of the outdoor scenes and especially the venue for the duel, impressed me as much as they did the first time I saw them. The first rays of dawn were a triumph of lighting design. The costumes were gorgeous. I am not a big fan of rearranging music that was never intended for dance I make an exception for Kurt-Heinz Stoltze's score.
I had expected the matinee to be eclipsed by English National Ballet's gala at the Coliseum which I saw a few hours later but, if anything, it was the other way round. Onegin is a great classical ballet created in our own time which is why so many leading companies around the world stage it.