The beautiful estate of Bryanston School deep in Dorset has played host to Dorset Opera for the last eleven years. Under its whirlwind of an artistic director Rod Kennedy the company offers a fortnight of intense tuition to aspiring singers, after which they are given a part in the chorus for the two operas that take place in the school’s Coade Hall Theatre. Exposure to professional singers and the chance to apply skills learned here in live performances make Dorset Opera an exciting opportunity for young singers.

Mark Stone (Eugene Onegin) and Anna Patalong (Tatyana) © Fritz Curzon
Mark Stone (Eugene Onegin) and Anna Patalong (Tatyana)
© Fritz Curzon

The 2016 season opened with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in translation. It is an ideal choice, with plenty of music for the chorus as well as the need to learn a few dance moves. Director Paul Carr’s production opened in a large wallpapered room with a backdrop of corn, followed by knotty woods for the duel and a rather lovely imperial painting for the St. Petersburg setting of Act III. The stage, though, was largely empty, with a few chairs providing the only real furnishing in the first act and Tatyana given merely a pillow and some curtains to create her bedroom. In some respects the total lack of clutter had its virtues, and it is possible to read this as a deliberate interpretation − the Chekhovian emptiness of emotional isolation, perhaps − but the staging did feel just a little too bare. The fact that Dorset Opera fielded a large chorus for a small stage may have also led to spatial constraints. Christopher Cowell’s English translation was largely fine, and very good in some of Onegin’s dialogue, but occasionally struggled to fit the music.

Fiona Kimm (Filippyevna) and Anna Patalong (Tatyana) © Fritz Curzon
Fiona Kimm (Filippyevna) and Anna Patalong (Tatyana)
© Fritz Curzon

Much of the casting was notable. Anna Patalong sang Tatyana in long, velvet phrases with a thrilling, powerful higher register full of anguish. Her demeanour was slightly too mature for my personal taste in the “Letters Scene”, but her acting was generally strong, particularly in the final scene between Tatyana and Onegin. Mark Stone didn’t offer the most thrilling interpretation of Onegin, but his singing was of a high quality. Stone’s baritone is muscular but rarely aggressive, and was generally deployed with smooth lyricism and a tendency to soar. He showed confidence at the top and an appreciation for the translation, which was particularly enjoyable in the first act.

There’s a feeling of drippiness to Lensky that can occasionally make him rather tedious. Luke Daniel brought out the ardent enthusiasm of the man in love with a pleasant, youthful tenor that took a little time to warm up at the top. Apart from one slight tremor in the first scene of Act II, he was fairly sturdy and his big moment before the duel was impressively and expressively sung. Tamara Gura was strong as Olga, sung with a smoky tone and charcoal timbre with a pleasant sense of teasing in her voice. The redoubtable Brindley Sherratt sang Prince Gremin, dispatching his famous Act III aria with less authoritative richness at the bottom than some, but a greater sense of contemplation. His articulation was clear, his projection good and his stage-manner compelling.

Luke Daniel (Lensky) and Tamara Gura (Olga) © Fritz Curzon
Luke Daniel (Lensky) and Tamara Gura (Olga)
© Fritz Curzon

Diana Montague in the role of Madame Larina was a touch of luxury casting, showing off a steely mezzo with plenty of tonal clarity and nuanced acting. David Rendall, a former regular on the world’s bigger stages, made a return to opera after an absence of many years in the role of Monsieur Triquet. Rendall sang with charming comedy: his technique was strong and his final sustained high not had surprising freshness. This was a commendable performance and a successful return to the stage. Fiona Kimm’s Filippyevna gave a warm performance as the girls’ nurse, slightly harsh at the top, but full of charisma and an ideal fit for the role.

The chorus was strong: diction was superb, notes were hit comfortably and an air of coherency to the singing suggested that the summer school tuition had gone to good use. Credit to the singers and to choreographer Alicia Frost for carrying off the dances. The Dorset Opera Festival Orchestra under Gavin Carr struggled with Tchaikovsky’s demanding writing, but flashes of inspired playing did occur particularly during the final act where the players seemed more comfortable.