Eugene Onegin- 1st rehearsal


The Community Opera Season is upon us, and for the next 6 weeks social life will be negligible as we get to grips with a new score. I’ve decide to try to keep a diary of the rehearsals for Eugene Onegin at Blackheath Halls.

SoBriefly, Tchaikovsky‘s Eugene Onegin is based on a Poem by Pushkin, and tells of how Onegin spurns the love of young Tatyana, flirts with her sister Olga and infuriates his dear friend, and Olga’s intended, Lenski, to such an extent that Lenski challenges him to a duel, Onegin reluctantly accepts and kills him.

Years later, after travelling the world trying to resolve his distress, Onegin returns home, only to meet Tatyana once more, and fall in love with her.  There’s a small problem though- she’s married.

marking up word changes
Marking up word changes copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So! First rehearsal: musical director Nick Jenkins is jetting in from Brussells or somewhere, and not expected until midday, so we collect our hired scores and amuse ourselves updating them with word changes from Director Harry Fehr; in pencil of course! Then Harry introduces us to the designer Tom Oldham and costumer Briony.

model of set for Act 2, Tatyana's party
model of set for Act 2, Tatyana's party

Harry has updated the action to the late thirties for the first two acts and mid fifties for the final act, and transported us from Russia to mid west America.

Mug Shots
Mug Shots copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We spend some time discussing the colour palette for each act, and the costumes, sourcing of which, depending on your take on events, can be great fun, or torment; but budgets are tight and we have to use our imaginations and raid wardrobes all across London… friends and family of the cast beware- your clothes are not safe.

If last year’s Elixir of Love is anything to go by, Harry will be giving us individual characters to play, so this means we all have to have mug shots taken holding up a card with our names on.  And be measured in case costumes have to be hired, after all, even with all those closets to ransack, we aren’t all going to be able to source 30’s agricultural workers wear, 30’s middle class rural party clothes and 50’s sophisticated evening wear, in the right colours!

Queuing to be Measured
Queuing to be measured copyright Cherry Potts 2011

A and I are usually muttering by this point, as we neither want to, nor look good, wearing evening gowns.  I did toy with the idea of a dress I thought I still had, but on checking the back of the wardrobe it’s gone to Oxfam some time ago;  shame really, I quite fancied making a little evening hat of peacock feathers… (I bet Tony’s laughing right now.)

Oh, the dresses I used to have, I had dozens of 30’s tea dresses, and 50’s cocktail dresses, and even a full length black number that would have looked good on Rita Hayworth… I do occasionally forget that I am no longer 19 and a size 12; so, back to reality, no peacock feathers!

Fortunately Nick arrives at this point and we can stop stressing about what to wear, and get down to what to sing.

We pitch straight into Act 2 and ‘The Tune’ as Nick describes it.  We are going to have to waltz while we sing…? Oh, no we’re not… just a few of us, who can look convincing? Whew!

It’s actually rather a neat crowd scene with people being polite about the party, gossiping about Onegin (Drunk before lunch every day) and complaining about how they never get to have any fun, and then it falls apart with the challenge to the duel.  Gorgeous music.

Now, I’ve had the choruses from Onegin on my MP3 for months, interspersed with Verdi’s Requiem and The Messiah, so I actually think I know the tunes fairly well.  But…! I’m not singing the tune, cos I’m a tenor, innit?  And I’ve got the tune so firmly in my head that I’m having to concentrate really hard not to sing that instead.

So how do I describe the first go at a piece?  Remember, Community Opera means just that, and a lot of us don’t read music:  so Duncan plays all the parts and gives us our notes, Nick sings all the parts, and all the principles as well, (most entertaining when doing Sop 1) and we stumble along as well as we can, swinging through the easy bits and squeaking like uncertain mice (or rats, or beavers or something for the lower voices) as we hit the run of semitones on ‘we’ll dance and feast the whole night long’: there are a lot of sharps and naturals slung in, and at first glance I’m flummoxed. Once I’ve heard Nick sing it, it’s better, but this is something I will have to pick out slowly on the piano and get the noise down right, and then worry about the speed and rhythm.  O…kay, not too bad, now we go back to the first act, and the peasant song.

I have to say I don’t love this chorus when I listen to it; and when, years ago, I took A to see Onegin live (at the ENO? can’t remember) and they started this, she gave me n appalled look,  and I  whispered to her, ‘It’s all right, it’s not all like this’, but what fun it is to sing!  The first section is mournful and rather beautiful, and the later section is silly and frivolous and too fast (at the moment!) and I can’t keep up with how many la’s there are in the tra-la-la-la… bits yet (and I hate tra-la-la more than I do hey-nonny-no, as a ‘what, you couldn’t think of any words then?’ moment), but it’s a riot.  I eat my words, I castigate my ears for not listening properly,  I am a convert to tra-bloody- la, provided the tune is good enough… and it is.  Hurrah for Tchaikovsky!

When we did La Boheme three years ago, I never was reconciled to the words, because I hated the music.  That was my first attempt at opera, and I hoped that learning it from the inside would make me love it, but no, Puccini and I will never get on.  So I am extremely pleased to be taking to Mr T so quickly.

I wonder if it’s frowned upon to be so familiar with the composer? No doubt I’ll find out.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

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