Frédérique Vézina as Tatiana in Pacific Opera Victoria's Onegin photo by David Cooper

Pacific Opera Victoria

Eugene Onegin
by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Dates 6, 8, 11, 13, 15 October 2005 Venue Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton Street, Victoria | All performances at 8 pm

Reviewer Kulpreet Sasan

Tatiana Frédérique Vézina Evgennii Onegin Jason Howard Lenski Kurt Lehmann Gremin Gary Relyea Olga Vilma Indra Vitols Larina Rebecca Haas Filipyevna Erin Cunès Triquet Eric Olsen Zaretsky Steven Devries Guillot Mark Marquette Captain Gabriel Chenier-Demers

Conductor Timothy Vernon Director Glynis Leyshon Set & Costume Designer Leslie Frankish

The crowd was absolutely electric before the Saturday night performance by Pacific Opera Victoria on Saturday, 6 October. Amid the conversations of the upcoming teachers strike, the hopes for the new hockey season, and other topics sacred and profane there was an underlying tension regarding the performance that was about to begin. The furs were out, the best jewels on display, and nary a hooded sweatshirt or Gortex jacket was in sight. Welcome to opera night in Victoria, where Pacific Opera was presenting Tchaikovsky's dazzling Eugene Onegin to start its 2005906 season.

The opera is based on the Pushkin narrative poem about the limits of Romanticism. Adapted by Tchaikovsky during a particularly tumultuous portion of his life, it is with The Queen of Spades his most famous and often presented opera. He seems to have channeled much of the turmoil of his married life into the opera and created a resonant and heart-breaking work.

Pacific Opera Victoria's staging brought much of this turmoil and heartbreak to the surface from the artful set, which references the bleakness of Russia's interior, to the lead performers who don't quite so much act as inhabit the characters of the opera. This is a production that hits all the right notes (no pun intended) and carries the audience to dizzying heights. The dances are choreographed to the point of toe-tapping, and the costumes are breathtakingly gorgeous.

Leslie Frankish's spartan set design communicates as much as any gesture by the actors or movement by the orchestra. From the depths of solitude to moments of inner turmoil the characters find a set that reflects their mental state to the audience.

A sparse forest of anemic birch trunks, standing in for the Russian countryside, is the constant background during the first half of the first act. This creates a simple and striking base for the rest of the scenes in the first act. The lighting changes allow the production to create various moods, from the intimate hues in the bedroom as Tatiana composes her letter of desire for Onegin to the cold, merciless light as Onegin rejects the advances and advises Tatiana not to take such a reckless action again.

One of the most beautifully realized moments of the opera occur in the second half after Lenski and Onegin's duel. As Onegin in the spotlight, sings of his lament, the stage fades behind him leaving him alone to be judged in the light. At the end of his aria as he steps back into the center stage he begins to be showered with colourful tinfoil confetti and the scene at the final ball is staged. This powerful moment is made much more so by the elegance of its execution.

The role of Tatiana is fully inhabited by Frédérique Vézina. During the first half of the production, she has to express the aloofness of youth, the elation of love, the joy of confession, the uncertainty of waiting and, finally, the heartbreak of rejection. All of this in lesser hands could be a source for ham-fisted hysterics, but Vézina tactfully lets the arias communicate the turmoil inside limiting herself to an almost minimalist but wholly convincing acting. Her effects are dazzling, and she soars in the role.

Jason Howard in the title-role is equally effective from the aforementioned lament after the duel with Lenski (Kurt Lehmann in another of the production's powerful performances) to the agonizing last moments of the production as he prostates himself for Tatiana's affection, Howard is always spot on. Simultaneously aloof and expressive, he hints at the fissures of his soul before fracturing completely exposing the needy soul craving affection. It is a powerfully nuanced performance that requires an icy demeanour for most part and the ability to explode on cue. Howard takes on the challenge and creates a memorable work of art, using his large voice to effect.

The remainder of the cast performs with equally dazzling effects. From Vilma Indra Vitols as Olga to Gary Relyea, who sings a beautifully realized aria on finding love late in life in the role of Gremin, there are no weak components in this marvelous production. Eric Olsen's comic turn in the minor role of the French fop Monsieur Triquet even belongs in the scene-stealing category.

Director Glynis Leyshon makes many elegant decisions that underlie the themes of Romanticism and its limitations. The production is focused and tactful, and Lyshon deserves full credit for its theatrical success. As an evening of singing-acting, this production gets five stars.

© 2005 Kulpreet Sasan