Tchaikovksy’s "Eugene Onegin" offers lovely extended solo vocal scenes, lush harvest, party and dance scenes, and a biting critique of romaticism and the emptyness of Russian upper class society. The IU Opera Theatre’s production artfully mixes stark and lushly staged scenes staged by guest director Yefim Maizel over Tchaikovsky’s music in a production surely conducted by David Effron.
As the orchestra played the overture, Maizel’s staging offered the main actors in isolated groups on a nearly bare stage. The opening scene of "Eugene Onegin" continued on the nearly empty stage as a country widow and the family’s nurse talking of how dreams of love and happiness are replaced by habit and duty. In contrast the family’s daughters, Tatyana and Olga are still very much romantics. Tatyana is in a dreamy world of her own thoughts and novels. Olga is in happy pursuit of dancing and laughter. The peasants arrive to celebrate the end of harvest.
Olga’s beau, the head-over-heels-in-love poet Lensky visits with his friend Eugene Onegin. All of Tatyana’s silly romantic ideals are fitted on the blank slate of this dark, mysterious figure. She pours out her thoughts in the famous extended "letter scene," an all night writing session, but is sternly rejected by Onegin.
Things turn stupidly tragic in "Eugene Onegin" at an elegantly staged and danced ball. If I were Trotsky or even Tolstoy, I might attribute what happens to the evil effects that capitalism or inherited place can have, even on a society’s own upper classes. The bored overbearing Onegin flirts with Lensky’s Olga . The playful Olga goes along with it and taunts Lensky. The firey Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel. Lensky sings a lovely aria about his lost youth and Onegin kills him. The flirtatious Olga has lost her fiancee, Onegin has lost his best, indeed only, friend. Lensky has lost his life.
Tatyana reappears a few years later at another lovely party. Like her mother and nurse, she has accepted the loss of romance to habit and duty. Onegin sees her and listens to an extended account of her virtues from her adoring husband, Prince Gremin. During the song director Yefim Maizel places images of the young Tatyana and even of the dying Lensky around the stage. Onegin decides that love for Tatyana might fill up the emptiness of his life. In a passionate scene, Tatyana rejects him though she admits that she has always loved him. The opera ends with Onegin on his knees in defeat and then a dark reprise of the dumb show from the overture.
In Saturday night’s cast,Jasmina Hallimic sang beautifully as the gracefully lovely Tatyana. The cast’s Onegin, Jonathan Stinson, played the dark misanthrope is an awkwardly stiff figure, at least outwardly a practically expressionless tablet upon which Tatyana could write her own story. Tatyana’s fun loving sister Olga was sung nicely by Hyounsoo Sohn. The role of the passionate poet Lensky was handled winningly by Edward Mout with an almost Irish-tenor. Both Katherine Altobello and Patrica Thompson as the mother and the nurse were very effective.
Guoping Wang’s choreography neatly integrated the corps of dancer-dancers into the chorus of singer-dancers. Mark Somerfield’s lighting whether in overall efffects or subtle touches was discretly effective in most scenes and quite over-the-top dramatic in few others. The costumes designed for the Utah Opera were very much a part of the drama themselves.
The IU Opera Theatre’s production of Tchaikovsky "Eugene Onegin" conducted by David Effron with staging by Yefim Maizel has final performances this Friday and Saturday at eight.