The extraordinary talent of Marianela Nuñez dominated this performance of Onegin at La Scala. From her opening, distracted scenes to her final act of resolve, Tatiana's emotional arc was perfectly conveyed. Her chest looked ready to explode with emotion when she first met Onegin, yet the rekindling of that passion during the final scene saw her close in her shoulders, crushed with the weight of the knowledge of what she must do, not only for the happiness of her dependable and loving husband, Prince Gremin, but also for her own stability. The meticulous control with which Onegin tore up her first-act love letter — “leave-me-a-lone” — was in stark contrast with her desperate, impulsive destruction of his love letter to her during the ballet's closing moments.
Nuñez was fresh and winsome — never verging on silly or trivial — as the young girl at the beginning of John Cranko's ballet, and there was only a subtle change when we see her as the mature Tatiana dancing the long pas de deux with her husband in the final act. Helped greatly by the languid choreography, Nuñez played a person who has evolved, not been transformed: she is still fresh but prudent, and now emotionally secure. The arrival of Onegin is just a minor diversion away from her path. Cranko once finished this ballet with Tatiana kissing her children goodnight, but somehow we sense, even with the more dramatic ending as she orders Onegin to leave her, that there is a reassuring family structure around her. This security she will not abandon for the perilous, and maybe nostalgic passion that wells up inside her on re-encountering Onegin. She is loyal, as was probably the character in the book she is found reading as the curtain opens at the beginning of Act One.
It goes without saying, that technically Nuñez threw off the tricky passages with apparent ease, was respectful of the choreography and, of course, she is always a delicious ballerina to watch. One of her greatest strengths, though, is to thoroughly engage with everyone on stage — she looks them straight in the eye, and she certainly brought out the best in Roberto Bolle, her Onegin. Their mirror pas de deux was full of ardent passion — an abandonment to emotion that only occurs for Tatiana in her dreams.
Bolle cut a dashing figure in his black Regency dress coat. It was clear why Tatiana is smitten. It is also clear why Bolle seems to have become the partner of choice for ballerinas' farewell performances, as he is an outstandingly attentive and strong partner. This Onegin found him in fine form.
Also cutting an elegant line was Timofej Andrijashenko as Lensky who, happily, has matured as an actor over the last couple of seasons. Lensky, like Tatiana and Olga, is a teenager, and the youthful ardour that Andrijashenko gave him was spot on. His technique wasn't consistent, and let him down a couple of times, but when everything came together he proved that he is a noteworthy talent.
Alessandra Vassallo's Olga was bubbly and likeable. She is a dancer who is secure and strong, but stands out for her engaging personality.
Another La Scala dancer who never gets lost in the crowd is Mick Zeni, always accomplished in everything he does. As Gremin he was authoritative, but not stern, and the interplay between him and Núñez in the final act was as touching as her final scene with Bolle was heart-wrenching.
La Scala's orchestra played excellently under Felix Korobov's baton, and the corps continues on its winning streak, with the exuberant first act dance of the townsfolk — which includes Cranko's magnificently theatrical breakneck diagonals of supported jetés — giving an opportunity to see the company on top form.
Performances of Onegin continue at Teatro alla Scala until 18 October.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.