Here are all the things I loved about Eugene Opera’s opening performance tonight of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin:
The set. Spare, simple and symmetrical, yet it really worked. The design was by Alex Fontain, relying heavily on projections of bold paintings by early 20th century Russian painter and set designer Nicholas Roerich, a fascinating figure in his own right. (Roerich, who designed the set for Stravinsky’s 1913 Rite of Spring, even has a minor planet named after him). The set, of course, is inseparable from
The staging. David Lefkowich directed, putting his singers mostly center stage between two halves of the chorus in a fairly static presentation that was surprisingly effective. Not quite a concert version, but lacking enough set and blocking to feel like a full-on production, this straightforward approach kept us focused on
The music of Tchaikovsky. OK, even Eugene Opera’s general director Mark Beudert made jokes about Tchaikovsky’s music in his curtain speech, which was nearly as long as Act I, Scene I, but listening to this lush, beautiful opera kept me happily attentive for its nearly three and a half hour(!) run time.
Alexander Pushkin’s plot. I have a tendency to get lost in the plot of the simplest opera, but this one was easy to follow from the overture right through to the tear-stained ending. Pushkin’s novel was actually written in verse, most of which was commentary on the plot. Said commentary has been replaced by the music, already mentioned.
Soprano Jill Gardner. She played Tatyana, the simple country girl who loses her heart to neighbor Eugene Onegin, who doesn’t exactly reciprocate right away. Her sad aria as she composes her pointless love letter to Onegin will make you melt. I also really liked
Anton Belov, the baritone who sang the title role, and Jake Gardner, who played the graying Prince Gremin, who ultimately marries Tatyana, and whose manner and resounding bass-baritone made half the audience swoon (guess which half).
Dancers from Eugene Ballet — Cory Betts, Kaori Fukui, Yamil Maldonado, Yoshie Oshima, Sara Stockwell and Jun Tanabe — did impressive work throughout the show, especially in the two ballroom scenes, natch. Antonio Anacan choreographed.
The duel. How do you stage a pistol duel and have it work? One way is to rotate the action at the last minute, so we’re looking right down the barrel of the pistol. Well done.
And here are all the things I didn’t like:
… Well, I can’t really think of any, though I probably could have skipped the second intermission and gotten home twenty minutes earlier.
Beautifully done, satisfying performance. The opera will be putting it on again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13, in the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall. Tickets at EugeneOpera.com.