Vancouver Opera Festival
Eugene Onegin
music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, libretto by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky & KS Shilovsky after Pushkin

Dates and Venue April 29 at 2 pm, May 3 & 5 at 7:30pm, 2018 | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Tom Diamond Scenic Designer Scott Reid Movement Director Tamara Cheliubeeva Lighting Designer Harry Frehner Assistant Director/Chorus Director Kinza Tyrrell Fight Choreographer Nicholas Harrison Stage Manager Theresa Tsang

Tatyana Svetlana Aksenova Olga Carolyn Sproule Madame Larina Leah Giselle Field Filippyevna Megan Latham Vladimir Lensky Alexei Dolgov Eugene Onegin Konstantin Shushakov Zaretsky / Captain Petrovich Peter Monaghan M. Triquet: Martin Renner Wallace Prince Gremin Goderdzi Janelidze

Sung in Russian with English and Chinese SURTITLES TM

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Eugene Onegin is a glorious triumph.  Written by the great Russian poet, Pushkin and composed by Tchaikovsky, master of 19th century Romanticism, the opera is rich and deeply expressive, exploring the dramatic emotions of youth and shot through with regret.

This step-back from the immediate is shown in the opening scene. Olga (Carolyn Sproule) and Tatyana (Svetlana Aksenova) are singing a duet off-stage while their mother Madame Larina (Leah Giselle Field), the widowed landowner of a country estate, reminisces with the family nurse, Filippyevna (Megan Latham), about her marriage and how she had eventually come to find contentment with her life.

It is the end of a successful harvest and soon the farm-workers arrive with the last sheaf and celebrate with songs and dances. Into this bucolic paradise step Lensky, the boy next door (Alexei Dolgov) and his new neighbour, Onegin (Konstantin Shushakov). Lensky and Olga are set to follow the conventional path, to be married and live happily ever after. Onegin however is bored to death by the countryside, by convention and generally by life and he flirts with the very young Tatyana who is swept off her feet by his attention.

That night she writes him a long letter, laying bare her love. In a long and varied monologue she is intense and hesitant, determined and vulnerable, doubtful and hopeful, yearning and cautious, anguished and exhilarated. Aksenova’s control and technique were superb but it was her expressivity that kept the audience enraptured through a long scene where all the action is in the voice.

Onegin rejects her crushingly and they do not see each other again until a year later on Tatyana’s name day. Onegin flirts with Olga and provokes Lensky into fighting what is a fatal duel. Horrified, Onegin travels abroad, returning four years later still jaded. In St. Petersburg at a grand society ball he sees Tatyana again, now an elegant society woman married to the highly respected Prince Gremin (Goderdzi Janelidze). In a turn of events, he falls in love, writes her a long impassioned letter and throws himself at her feet. Tatyana, like her mother before her, has found comfort in a loving husband and the routine of life. Heartbreakingly, she confesses she still loves Onegin, but she will still refuse him forever.

Staying true to Tchaikovsky’s intent to have young people sing the principal roles, Vancouver Opera has cast singers in the early stages of their careers. They all bring freshness and genuine sincerity to clean technique and sophisticated understanding. Although Shushakov, Dolgov and Aksenova are Russian trained they blended seamlessly into the Canadian cast, Dolgov’s duet with Carolyn Sproule was a gem of concord and joy.

In Konstantin Shushakov, Vancouver Opera have found a singing actor who perfectly embodies both the repressed snob and the impassioned suppliant. Controlled and confident acting in projected video clips combined with a strong, assured lyrical baritone on stage carry Onegin’s equivocal character to the end and heighten Onegin’s ultimate heartbreak.

Svetlana Aksenova formidably changed the youthful innocent of Act I for aristocratic sophisticate in Act III with complete assurance Facing Onegin again, she lost none of the old Tatyana’s intensity in confessing her love for him while defending her determination to stay with her husband.

Underlining what Tatyana has gained and what Onegin has lost, Prince Gremin’s paean to love nearly brought the house down. Sharing Onegin’s opinions about the idle aristocratic life, Gremin is everything Onegin might have been - successful in a career, favoured at court. Goderdzi Janelidze’s velvety bass, caressing the notes, brought alive his happiness in loving Tatyana and made Onegin’s meeting with Tatyana the more intense.

Leah Giselle Field and Megan Latham, Martin Renner Wallace and Peter Monaghan were all excellent in the smaller roles, each with character and confidence.

Brilliantly simple sets and discriminating lighting gave the run-of-the-mill ‘Russian life’ costumes gloss and glow. Better, they deepened each scene in a few strokes. Clever projections which morphed from background to backdrop also enhanced the setting. I was not entirely convinced by the back story also told through projections. They showed Onegin remembering his life and perhaps reflected Pushkin’s original novel which is narrated by an observer. Beautifully accomplished, they did not really add anything to such a well-conceived and well-performed production.

Jonathan Darlington’s orchestra played their hearts out for him, revelling in glorious lyrical stretches and lush orchestration, tender moments and dance music lively enough to make you want to leap up and join the .Vancouver Opera Chorus and skilful dancers.

And finally, with all due respect to excellent diction from everyone, how rewarding it is to hear Russian sung by Russian speakers.

© 2018 Elizabeth Paterson