Opera Scotland

Tchaikovsky

Eugene Onegin in Scotland

Posted 3 May 2018

Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (pictured) received its first performance in Scotland at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 7 November 1906.

Early history

The performers at that first performance were the Moody-Manners Opera Company conducted by Richard Eckhold. Tatyana was sung by Fanny Moody herself, with her husband Charles Manners as Gremin. The couple were repeating the parts they had sung in the 1892 British premiere, in London at the Olympic Theatre, This was conducted by someone who at that time was a comparative novice, Henry J Wood.

In 1906, Onegin was sung by Lewys James, with Wilson Pembroke (Lensky) and Olive Westwood (Olga). The company performed at Glasgow Theatre Royal the following week. Most of the singers gave a further performance in Edinburgh in 1909, when the conductor was Romualdo Sapio.

The opera was not yet part of the general repertoire and there was a long gap until its next Scottish appearance. This was in 1957, when Sadler’s Wells Opera toured it to Glasgow King’s Theatre. The conductor was Alexander Gibson, with Patricia Howard (Tatyana), Frederick Sharp (Onegin), Rowland Jones (Lensky) and Harold Blackburn (Gremin).

After another gap, Glyndebourne Touring Opera performed in Russian on a 1971 visit to the Edinburgh King’s - the first of a handful of visits to Scotland by the touring company. Benjamin Luxon sang the title role, with Australian Elizabeth Tippett (Tatyana), Rosanne Creffield (Olga) and Enid Hartle (Filipyevna). A young John Tomlinson was a prominent member of the chorus and Michael Hadjimischev’s production was conducted by Myer Fredman.

Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera’s first production, directed by David Pountney in atmospheric period designs by Roger Butlin and Deirdre Clancy, opened at the 1979 Edinburgh Festival. Singers included John Shirley-Quirk (Onegin), Lilian Sukis (Tatyana), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Lensky), Stafford Dean (Gremin) and Cynthia Buchan (Olga). Alexander Gibson conducted and would go on to take charge of most revivals of this memorable staging that was given frequently until 1993.

Most of these performances were in English. However the 1988 revival featured the great Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus in the title role, so the company performed in that language for the first time. Other cast members were Joanna Kozlowska (Tatyana), Anthony Roden (Lensky), Fiona Kimm (Olga) and Anne Collins (Larina). Singers who appeared in various other revivals included Benjamin Luxon and Russell Smythe (Onegin), Helena Döse and Cheryl Barker (Tatyana), Linda Ormiston and Clare Shearer (Olga) and Linda Ormiston again as Filipyevna.

Since then, Scottish Opera have also performed the piece in 2004 in a medium-scale touring production by John la Bouchardière. The conductor was Derek Clark with Rachel Nicholls (Tatyana) and Alex Ashworth (Onegin).

At the Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh Festival has twice played host to performances by a Russian company. In 1986 the Maly Theatre from Leningrad featured both Lyudmila Sirenko and Lyubov Kazarnovskaya as Tatyana, with Nina Romanova (Olga), Irina Bogachova (Filipyevna) and Vladimir Ognovenko (Gremin).

 In 1991 the Bolshoi Opera came from Moscow, led by conductor Alexander Lazarev. Their dawn departure from Moscow coincided with an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow their government - the performers saw fleets of military vehicles heading the other way - and news bulletins featured the story throughout the day as tension mounted. The atmosphere was unusually tense and the company received an ecstatic welcome at the Playhouse both before and after the performance. The singers that memorable evening included Nina Rautio (Tatyana), Vladimir Redkin (Onegin), Arkady Mishenkin (Lensky), Elena Zaremba (Olga), Ludmila Nam (Filipyevna) and Gleb Nikolsky (Gremin).

Context

Since the turn of the century, Onegin has featured frequently in the repertoires of student, small-scale and amateur companies. It is now one of the most popular works in regular performance. The most recent full-scale professional appearances in Scotland have been at the Perth Festival, where English Touring Opera have performed James Conway’s production in 2007 and 2012, both times conducted by Michael Rosewell. The two casts included Amanda Echalaz and Sarah-Jane Davies (Tatyana), Roland Wood and Nicholas Lester (Onegin), complemented by Michael Bracegirdle and Jaewoo Kim (Lensky), Clare Shearer and Harriet Williams (Larina) as well as Linda Hibberd and Frances McCafferty (Filipyevna).

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