Preview: Eugene Onegin

It’s pronounced On-yea-gin

Cambridge onegin Opera Preview west road

Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is CUOS’ biggest show of the year, and one of the largest scale projects happening in Cambridge this term.

With a team of around 100 people involved, expectations are high for its opening night on Thursday.

I went along to one of their last rehearsals and it was difficult to not be incredibly impressed. They were running through one of the three large dance scenes and the space was filled with the cast, dancing and twirling and singing together.

The following day I visited the Sitzprobe (German for ‘seated rehearsal’), only the second time that the orchestra had come together with the cast. The music is simply fantastic: I sat there at the back of the hall tapping along, caught up in the midst of it all, despite not really knowing what was going on.

Speaking to the Director, Rob Hawkins, it became clear how ambitious this project was, but with equally great rewards.

“This isn’t a conventional student opera. They often say that you can go up to Mozart then skip out the Romantics and start again with more modern chamber operas. This is seen as too big, and it requires good singers. It was put on five or six years ago, though, so we knew it would be possible.”

With a chorus large enough to get lots of students involved, but a band small enough to squeeze into the West Road Concert Hall’s orchestra pit, it seemed perfect for this headline CUOS slot.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges, though. Despite a long build up – the bid was put in for the show last summer – there’s been a relatively short rehearsal process. To get the characters developed, the music up to scratch, the blocking and choreography ready, and the complex design finished within the space of a couple of months has been a serious challenge.

Nonetheless, as the opening night approaches, things are nearing completion. “There’s a great sense of satisfaction when the whole machine gets moving,” Rob explains.

So why should people less interested in opera go along, I ask. “Well, we’re not trying to hide the fact it’s an opera, but it’s got great music and incredible singers, especially the four leads: two current students and two recent graduates heading towards professional musical careers. There are some amazing spectacles too, with three large, fully-choreographed dance scenes.

“It’s also a fantastic story, a very human drama.” The opera is based on a classic Russian novel by Alexander Pushkin and tells the story of Tatyana and her sister Olga. When Olga’s fiancé Lensky brings his friend Onegin out to their house, Tatyana is smitten – but her feelings are not reciprocated. Foul play arises and soon escalates, with disastrous results. (Full synopsis available on Google.)

“It refuses to be drawn into the trap of everything painted in black and white. There is no villain, no hero; nobody in particular is guilty. Only the audience really sees the whole story: there are so many points when you want it to just stop there and it’ll all be okay.”

A show of this scale is usually an annual occasion, but a performance quite this impressive might only happen once during your degree. Make sure not to miss out. 

Eugene Onegin runs at West Road Concert Hall from Thu 19 – Sat 21 February at 8.00pm, with a 1.30pm matinee on Sat 21. Tickets available from ADC Ticketing, starting at £7 for students.