MOT’s ‘Eugene Onegin’ grabs at the heart
DETROIT, Mich.–Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is not best known for his operas. He wrote several, but they just don’t stand out or the test of time like his symphonies and ballet “Swan Lake.” But his music for Eugene Onegin, which was written as lyric scenes to the classic Alexander Pushkin lyric novel, has such a strong bit of material behind it, one can see what inspired the composer.
The story is about the heroine of the novel, Tatyana (Corinne Winters), set in 19th century Russia. It is Autumn in the country, so doing it as Michigan Opera Theatre’s Fall opener is a good choice. On the Larin estate. Madame Larina (Kathrine Goeldner) is reflecting on the days before she married, when she was courted by her husband but loved another. She is now a widow with two daughters: Tatyana and Olga (Carolyn Sproule). Olga is being courted by a neighbor, the poet Lensky(Jamez McCorkle). He arrives unexpectedly, bringing with him a new visitor, Eugene Onegin (Iurii Samoilov), with whom Tatyana soon falls in love, though Onegin rebuffs her feelings.
In Act Two, the locals have been invited to the Larin estate for a celebration. Onegin reluctantly agrees to accompany Lensky to what he mistakenly believes will be an intimate family gathering. Annoyed to find himself trapped in large party, Onegin takes his frustration out on Lensky by flirting and dancing with Olga. Lensky’s jealousy is aroused to such a height that he challenges Onegin to a duel. Lensky is killed. The third act moves to St. Petersburg. Years after the duel, Onegin has returned to the capital. At a ball Onegin is astonished to meet the young wife of the Prince, and recognize her as Tatyana. Onegin begs her to run away with him, and though she admits that she still loves him, she will not leave her husband.
This is a co-production between Kansas City Lyric Opera, Seattle Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Atlanta and Hawaii, and directed by Stephanie Havey, designed by Erhard Rom and Robert Wierzel.
Ms. Winters is beguiling as Tatyana, and she especially nails the role in Act 3 when her feelings for Onegin are stirred again, and she faces the conflict of her feelings for both him and the Prince. Her aria as she says good-bye to him for the last time is the stuff of heartbreak for anyone who has lost their great love to circumstances. Mr. McCorkle is quite compelling as Lensky, and his angst conveyed before the fatal duel, as he senses his approaching death, his love for Olga and the life he is about to lose, is engrossing. Mr. Samoilov in the title delivers excellent vocals, combined with playing Onegin as reluctantly besotted is a nice piece of acting and not easy to pull off without seeming artificial in an opera when everyone is singing.
This production is being performed with only one cast, unusual for MOT. Eugene Onegin is a poignant and heartfelt story of great love left incomplete, and it is as heartrending as it is universal.