London’s Covent Garden Royal Opera House still represents very good value when one compares it with the inflated prices of so many other London theatres. For just over twenty pounds a decent seat we were treated yesterday to a supreme night of ballet in the form of John Cranko’s choreography of Pushkin’s verse-novel Eugene Onegin, originally produced for the Stuttgart ballet in 1965.
I am no expert on ballet – I just love it and yesterday evening’s performance utterly enthused an audience who applauded and cheered with almost Italian fervour.
The story of a typically “superfluous” young Russian (one bored with and cynical about the society he inhabits – cf Oblomov) who infatuates a budding country girl, Tatiana, with tragic consequences for himself, his loves and friendships, is too well-known to repeat here. The wonder is that Cranko manages to create an equally valid balletic version to Tchaikovsky’s searing opera on the same subject and uses Tchaikovsky’s music without quoting a single note from the opera!
I recognized none of the music except for an excerpt from “Francesca da Rimini” in the last act which reminded me of that magnificent walled city of Gradara in the Italian Marche, which we’d visited last year and where that tragic love story was supposedly played out.
Later I found out that most of the ballet’s music had been orchestrated from the composer’s lesser known piano pieces, including, appropriately, “the seasons”.
To come to the dancing: Frederico Bonelli, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet since 2003, comes from Genoa and his expertise in “serieuse” roles fulfilled itself to perfection in the quasi-byronic title role – quite apart from his considerable physique required in the numerous portanti actions of collaborating with his scorned and scorning love, Tatiana, through some of the most complex pas-de-deux figures I have witnessed. The dream sequence concluding act one was particularly sublime.
Spanish-born Laura Morera, who became principal in 2007 has a difficult role, changing from the infatuated teenager of act one, literally throwing herself at the indifferent Onegin’s feet and then metamorphosing into the radiantly beautiful and confident society lady in the last act’s society ball who, in turn has the remorseful Eugene throwing himself uselessly at her feet. This development was achieved with flying colours and the audience was rapturous at Modera’s curtain calls. Who said anything about British reserve there?
The corps de ballet were, as usual, brilliant and I greatly enjoyed the polonaises, mazurkas and Contre-dances they performed at the ball-scenes in intricately original figures.
What more can I say? How sad that Cranko died such an avoidable death on that jet flight in 1973 aged only 45, for his creation of this immortal ballet is surely his masterpiece.
Moral of the story? Always think twice about tearing unwanted letters and at least three times before writing them and, quite definitely before sending them! Duels can still take place, especially in today’s Italy, and even Russia as the great Pushkin sadly found out to his own cost when d’Anthes put a sword through his spleen and killed Alexander in 1837 aged only 37.