Lyric Opera presents story of roiling passions
That first crush…
Cold rejection and unrequited love…
Betrayal by your beloved…
The comfort of love in later years…
Ignoring passion to do the right thing…
If you have known one or more of these ways in which love roils, you’ll find familiar territory in Tchaikovsky’s score that makes the inner life of the story’s characters into melody. Based on an epic poem by Pushkin that is beloved by Russians through the generations, it gives us a Tchaikovsky score that lets the orchestration tell much of the tale. Tchaikovsky has also given us an opera spotted with amazing arias that seem to make time stand still.
Story from Pushkin’s romantic poem
Here’s the story-- A country girl fond of romance novels (Tatiana, played by Ana María Martínez) meets a city slicker sophisticate guy (Eugene Onegin, played by Mariusz Kwiecień) and falls for him head over heels. When she writes a love letter the music unleashes every shade of emotion that powers her pen—from the heady fantasy of returned love, to desperate fear of rejection, to desire so strong it might kill, and more.
The guy isn’t especially cruel to her, but he is cold. A self-involved kind of guy, he flirts with the fiancée and childhood love (Olga, played by Alisa Kolosova)of his best friend (Vladimir Lensky played by Charles Castronovo) just to break up his ennui. That ends in a duel and death, but not until this Lensky sings one of the most beautiful arias in the opera repertoire.
Years later, after Onegin has tired of traveling the world, he runs into Tatiana now married to Prince Gremin (played by Dmitry Belosseskiy) . This Prince, Tatiana’s husband, in deep bass voice sings an exquisitely lovely aria about the joys of finding love in his later years.
Onegin, undeterred by concerns of propriety, literally throws himself at Tatiana’s feet. He may have been a cold cad, but, truth to tell, she still carries a torch for the fella. It’s not enough though to betray her vows. Onegin has to eat his woe and the curtain falls.
This is a production where we see the hand of expert direction at work in every scene. (Robert Carsen, Director) Not only is Martinez’ singing spectacular, but she is totally believable both as the romantic shy country girl and the regal princess she becomes. Whether she curls in semi-fetal position as the night wears on and she is writing her love letter, or when she keeps her eyes downward as shyness overcomes her, or later when she hosts a ballroom reception and spies her Onegin again, she is totally believable.
Similarly we are treated not only to Kwiecień’s marvelous voice but also acting sized for an opera hall, whether he is strutting about like a conceited peacock, mourning his friend, or later throwing himself at Tatiana’s feet.
Music that telegraphs the characters' inner life
It’s Tchaikovsky’s score conducted by Alejo Pérez that does the most to define the emotional landscape. How the music telegraphs the roiling emotions of Tatiana’s love letter is in itself enough reason to listen to this opera again and again. Tatiana sings both of her angel sent love and of doubt with the help of beauteous French horns. Oboe and flute come in and out to change the mood of her song again and again. Then the strings round the corners. You can listen to this score alone to hear these orchestral flourishes but having this wonderful production in your mind’s eye will go a long way to help you hear it anew.
Castronovo as Lensky is the heart-in-throat show stopper
The show stopper is Castronovo’s performance as Lensky during his aria lament of his short life and squandered love on Olga, that girl next door whom he grew up with and always knew as THE ONE. Castronovo’s sweet and powerful tenor voice is absolutely riveting. How perfect that his picture in the program book looks like a slightly sepia toned black and white romantic hero summoning memories of Rudolph Valentino as the heart throb of silent films.
Lighting that telegraphs the moods of the story and music
While there is no shortage of star power in this Eugene Onegin production, the star among stars is Lighting Designer Christine Binder. With the aid of sparse sets (Set Designer Michael Levine) Binder puts an appropriate light and hue on every emotion in the script and score. From tawny oranges to purplish blues and more, the lights telegraph the inner landscapes of the characters and helps tell the story much as Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music does. With blue lighting we feel the fog in the morning of the duel and get chills when spotlights bring the protagonists’ faces into view as they ready to fight. As Tatiana writes her marathon love letter we watch the night sky fade and the bright of morning come into focus. When Tatiana and Onegin have their final face to face, the spotlights announce the drama like a rousing revele. None of the colors are simple—they have hues and edges with hot spots and fades. Brava! Masterful!
Expect to leave the opera house exhilarated
At the conclusion of this performance you too might find yourself debating with your companion if this was the best Lyric production ever. Luckily, the Lyric gives us so much to fuel this ongoing debate. This production of Eugene Onegin definitely is on the shortlist. Expect to leave the grand Civic Opera house exhilarated.
Through March 20, 2017
Civic Opera House
20 N. Wacker Drive
Click here to read more about how the Lyric makes the music magic happen--- in the Picture this Post story-- Lyric Opera Backstage Tour Review– How the Opera Magic Gets Made.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.