Vancouver Opera: Onegin. Photo by Tim Matheson
Brett Polegato as Onegin. Photo by Tim Matheson
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Brett Polegato as Onegin and Rhoslyn Jones as Tatyana. Photo by Tim MathesonTchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Dates and Venue 22, 25, 27 & 29 November 2008, All performances 7:30 pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson


Tatyana Rhoslyn Jones Onegin Brett Polegato Olga Allyson McHardy Mme. Larina Norine Burgess Filippyevna Marcia Swanston Lensky Oleg Balashov Captain Petrovich and Zaretsky Chad Louwerse M. Triquet James McLennan Prince Gramin Peter Volpe

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Pamela Berlin

Vancouver Opera opens its season with a quintessential opera composed of good music, good words and strong emotion.

Eugene Onegin is based on Pushkin’s “novel in poetry”, translated into music by Tchaikovsky in what is almost a set of art songs, loosely tied together by a dramatic structure.  Rather than follow the plot of the novel, Tchaikovsky highlights turning points in the characters’ lives.  He touches on various forms of love, a girl’s romantic, imaginary love, young love, unhappy love, earthy peasant courtship and explores others more fully. 

Lensky the poet and Olga, who have loved each other throughout childhood and are now engaged, sing a duet of unalloyed joy describing their untested love.  This is the most happy moment for any of the characters and comes early in Act I.  It is balanced in Act III by Prince Gramin’s declaration of his love for his wife, despite being full of years and experience.  But Tchaikovsky concentrates on Tatyana, whose emotions are deep, genuine and passionately expressed.

The opera opens in the Russian countryside.  Onegin, a dissolute young man already world-weary in his mid-twenties, has inherited a country estate.  His friend and neighbour, the poet Lensky, takes him to meet the family of his fiancée, the rather ditzy and outgoing Olga.  Onegin is mildly attracted by Tatyana, the shy and dreamy older sister but she falls passionately in love with him at first sight.  Impetuously, she pours out her soul in a letter which she sends to him.  His re-action is cool and condescending.  He could love her as a brother, he says.  We meet them next at a ball given by the Larin family to celebrate Tatyana’s name day.  Onegin, cross and bored, decides to tease Lensky by flirting with Olga and so provokes him that a fight breaks out.  Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel and is killed. 

After several years of travelling abroad, Onegin returns to St. Petersburg.  He attends the Prince Gramin’s ball where he meets the prince’s wife, a composed and attractive young woman whom Onegin is astonished to recognize as Tatyana.  He realizes that he is in love and casts himself at her feet. Although she confesses she still loves him, shshe will not ruin her husband’s life and sends Onegin away.

Eugene Onegin was first performed by the students of the Moscow Conservatoire.  Tchaikovsky was looking for a performance with qualities of youthfulness and passion.  Vancouver Opera cast Rhoslyn Jones as Tatyana, a singer at the beginning of her career with a glorious voice full of freshness, quite capable of singing such a demanding role.  The letter scene is essentially Tatyana’s.  Jones held the stage, drawing an emotional portrait of a girl who is unafraid to throw herself into her feelings, a true and generous spirit.


© 2008 Elizabeth Paterson