I obtained this recording from my library, desirous of getting acquainted with Tchaikovsky's operatic output. But as is often the case with library recordings, it was never played enough for me to get into the opera. Later I bought the fabulous DG recording with Thomas Allan as Onegin and fell in love with this classic Russian work.
Chandos' Opera in English series always attracted my admiration; however, I never listened to one of its entries until now. Yes, the English doesn't sound as perfectly natural as the Russian (it's to be expected!), but this recording still uses a fine translation. Not only does it capture the meter of the libretto, but often the rhyming. Somehow, though, I think the main reason we think the English sounds odd is because we aren't used to it - and we understand it. I am thoroughly happy that this recording was made. There are plenty of Russian Eugene Onegins out there.
On to the performance. This is where things become really sticky. Thomas Hampson is ideal as Onegin - almost as good as Thomas Allan in my opinion. He packs a lot of emotion into his character, with splendid singing that shows Baritones can be romantic too. Kiri Te Kanawa has a few un-girlish moments, but on the whole is a splendid Tatyana. No complaints concerning John Connell as Prince Gremin or Patricia Bardon as Olga.
The two tenors are another matter. As fine as Gedda's singing was in the days of analogue, it comes over far less freshly here. Mackerras also rushes him through Trinquet's Couplets at a speed that accentuates the decline in Gedda's powers. Neil Rosenshein sings Lensky with a lot of emotion, but his upper range often comes over as unpleasantly strained. The wobble of his upper notes distracts from what is otherwise a very good set.
The chorus (which has little to do, overall) is very good, though the magic of the Peasant's Chorus really isn't captured to the same extent as in other performances. Part of this is due to the orchestra, which lacks some of the cohesion and bite present in, say, James Levine's DG recording.
Chandos is very generous with tracking - 59 tracks on two CDs - but many of these divisions take place in the middle of songs, making the purchasing of the MP3 album undesirable. There would be many clicks between music that should flow smoothly upon playback.
Overall, this is a noble effort at appealing to English-speaking music fans that is very commendable, flaws notwithstanding. If you can get past the strained Lensky, there is much to enjoy here - but not as much as there could have been.