William Ford | 25 APR 2022
In the following video, our traveling critic William Ford reviews a performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera, Eugene Onegin, performed by Opera Omaha at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha, Nebraska. If you prefer to read rather than view, a text version of the review appears below the video.
Video produced by William Ford for EarRelevant.
Tchaikovsky’s 1878 opera Eugene Onegin is based on Pushkin’s verse novel of the same name. Many of the composer’s works grew out of self-doubt and initially this opera was no exception. When it was suggested by a friend that he tackle it, he was hesitant, yet eventually thought better of it and began developing his own version of Pushkin’s novel, using plot points and verse from the original.
The opera is in three acts with seven scenes. Very simply it is the story of a young entitled and privileged dandy, Eugene Onegin, who meets and rejects in a most patronizing and condescending way, a young “diamond-in-the-rough” country girl, Tatyana who professes her love for him. The second act fleshes out Onegin’s character. At a ball, he flirts with the beloved of his best friend Lensky. Out of jealousy, Lensky challenges Onegin to a dual that proves fatal to the hapless friend. Act three, taking place a few years later, features Eugene as a lonely embittered man who has attempted to assuage his guilt over Lensky’s death by traveling abroad. He professes himself to be a hollow man without friends or love. As luck would have it, Prince Gremin enters the restaurant, with the lovely, now polished Tatyana on his arm. This reignites Onegin’s passions and he tries to seduce Tatyana to no avail. As he leaves her room, he is even a more broken man.
Opera Omaha’s production takes place in some undefined modern era, and the costumes fairly simple. For example, Onegin always appears in a tuxedo, either with coat on or coat off. The large Orpheum theater stage is dominated in the first two acts by a long table on stage left that serves multiple purposes: a peasant picnic table, a roulette table, a cot-like resting place. On stage right there is a bedroom where the adult Tatyana reminisces about her tumultuous relationship with Onegin. In the third act, a supper club with multiple round tables dominates the stage. In the final scene, Tatyana’s room is duplicated left and right, one for the older reminiscing woman and the other for the content of those memories.
Lauren Michelle played Tatyana. She has a strong soprano that is clear and direct, with an occasional nasal quality in the upper registers. She is quite convincing both as the simple peasant girl and the polished princess. Her stamina during the long “Have you not heard?” aria was impressive. Brenda Crawley played the older, reminiscing Tatyana; this is a non-singing role that mostly serves to underscore the emotions of a scene through pantomime.
Baritone Alexander Eliott played Onegin. He had just the right amount of smarminess to portray the arrogant yet ultimately defeated anti-hero. His voice was powerful and he has an impressive stage presence. Tenor Scott Quinn sang the role of best-friend Lensky. He was brilliant in the aria “Where have you gone, O golden days of my spring?”- his torment and anguish anticipating a potential self-inflicted death was compelling.
Tatyana’s nanny was performed by mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood, an audience favorite whose warm voice has the patina of experience. Bass David Pittsinger as Prince Gremin, Tatyana’s husband, has a strong impressive voice and great acting skills. Another crowd pleasing performance was that of tenor Steven Cole who turned Monsieur Triquet’s somewhat minor character into an enjoyable over-the-top song and dance man. Mezzo Mariya Kaganskaya was an engaging Madam Larina as madam of the manor in the first act; she seemed to relish her part.
This performance was in Russian with English surtitles. Elliott seemed to have particular comfort with the Russian libretto. The Opera Omaha Chorus sang beautifully; it was prepared by Chorus Director Sean Kelly.
In the pit, Steven White conducted the Omaha Symphony. The orchestra was spectacular, providing a transparency to Tchaikovsky’s music that revealed the composer’s skill with orchestration. The famous Polonaise and Waltz sequences nicely show cased the musicality of the orchestra. The Symphony never overpowered the singers – a tribute to Maestro White.
Credit must be given to Director Rosetta Cucchi who produced a powerful and emotion filled production, with great singing and acting.
Overall, this was a high quality, emotionally charged production of Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera. Congratulations to all! ■
- Opera Omaha: operaomaha.org