Eugene Onegin at Garsington Revival

I wrote this back in 2016 when this production first opened . It is now in a new production at Garsington with an entirely new cast , reimagined for covid but still remarkably powerful . Seeing a full chorus , and hearing the Philharmonia in full flight was a wonderful experience after a year without the power of large scale theatre.

Only my second opera with director Michael Boyd, but in a sense all our long years of Shakespearean collaboration have paid off. Trusting to the power and poetry of the music we have tried to create a simple versatile space that can easily transform to create a sense not just of location, but also a state of mind. We conceived the piece very much in two halves, the first from Tatyana’s view point, a romantic reader of novels  isolated from the world in rural Russia who falls instantly for the urbane charms of Onegin . In the second half the world is seen through Onegin’s eyes; the pointless duel and his murder of his best friend, travels to escape the ghosts of the past and final encounter with the now sophisticated Tatyana in St Petersburg.

The first half is in daylight in the semi open pavilion that is Garsington’s glorious theatre in the beautiful grounds at Wormsley. The challenge for a designer is how to work with or against the distractions of a view to the outside world, in a piece that demands outdoor scenes with large groups of peasants and then a focused solo for the lead soprano in her bedroom alone. My solution, inspired by Richard Davies’s amazing photographs of Russian churches, was to create 5 sides of an octagon in half sawn logs , held up by a framework of rough wooden scaffolding, these break up into 5 trucks that can be moved to give either a long horizon line or pulled together to give a claustrophobic interior space for the bedroom and the first country ball where crowds of well wishers bear down on the confused Tatyana.

The second half , after the long dinner break ,allows us

Eugene Onegin Garsington 16 directed by Michael Boyd, Designed by Tom Piper
Eugene Onegin Garsington 16 directed by Michael Boyd, Designed by Tom Piper

with Giuseppe the lighting designer ,to create more atmospheric and expressionistic effects. The reverse of the towers becomes an almost Russian Constructivist forest , these then swirl round in a choreographed interlude which depicts Onegin’s travels to reveal a wall of mirrors amplifying the glittering and self regarding world of St Petersburg. Finally we return to the octagon shape for Tatyana’s St Petersburg room, and like a ballerina in a music box see her trapped and reflected at every turn, unable to go with Eugene and so swallowed back into the St petersburg high society who have created such a code of honour that she cannot break to follow her heart’s true passion.

Directed by Michael Boyd, Designed by Tom Piper
Eugene Onegin, Garsington 16.Directed by Michael Boyd, Designed by Tom Piper

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