Eugene Onegin I Aspen Opera Theater Center
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In Review > North America

Eugene Onegin

ASPEN
Aspen Opera Theater Center
7/10/14

In Review Aspen Eugene Onegin lg 1014
Verm and Dyachek, Onegin and Tatiana in Aspen
© Alex Irvin 2014

This season, Aspen Opera Theater Center presented Carmen, Eugene Onegin and Lowell Liebermann’s Picture of Dorian Gray — major-league stuff for the young singers in the company. Edward Berkeley, director of AOTC since 1984, would be the first to admit that Onegin’sthree central roles are not exactly kids’ stuff, even if the staging is sung in English. (David Lloyd Jones’s rhyming translation, honoring Pushkin’s original verse novel, was employed.) The Tchaikovsky demands principal artists more seasoned than most of the student singers filling this year’s Aspen roster, so in casting Onegin, Lenski and Tatiana, Berkeley moved up to the next level of operatic ability and experience.  

Ukrainian-born soprano Yelena Dyachek, the Tatiana, is an alumna of the Aspen program and has won several competitions around the U.S.; she is currently completing her master’s degree at USC. Baritone Craig Verm, the Onegin, another Aspen veteran, is a veteran of Pittsburgh Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gotham Chamber Opera and other important North American companies. Tenor Benjamin Bliss, the Lenski, has just completed his first year in the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist program and was the winner of the zarzuela prize at the 2013 Operalia competition. Surrounded by AOTC students, these three artists brought professional polish to this vocally and dramatically challenging work (seen July 10). 

The show-stopper of any Onegin, of course, is Tatiana’s letter scene, here handled with forceful, impeccably focused singing by Dyachek. Berkeley gave her the full stage to work with, and the soprano traversed it with intensity, though the range of her acting couldn’t fully capture her character’s inner complexities (not to mention the problems she encountered with a pen that kept rolling onto the floor when not in use). More successful was the elegance and maturity she projected as a lady of stature in the final scene, in which her regal carriage helped make Onegin’s pleadings all the more pathetic. For his part, Verm was ideal in both looks and deportment. Tall and slender, he appeared as the very personification of Onegin. Verm’s portrayal was more effective in the early scenes; he struggled gamely to find a believable sense of desperation in the finale. Vocally, his baritone remained assured and attractive, whether in dismissing Tatiana’s advances or standing his ground when confronted by Lenski during the ball scene. 

Bliss emerged as the singing star of this production, his tenor soaring through Lenski’s impassioned music, producing a confident sound that smoothly transitioned from low to high, although he failed to make dramatic sense of the character’s sudden shift from unstoppable jealousy to introspective semi-regret — admittedly a tough moment for any Lenski. As a result, the lead-up to the Lenski–Onegin duel lacked the needed incendiary tension. 

Among the supporting roles, Alexandra Schenck (Olga) and Alex Soare (Gremin) stood out, though Soare could have eased up on his wooden-Prince stiffness. There was fine work from the chorus — prepared by Elizabeth Buccheri — which delivered those peasant songs with enthusiasm. And they danced wonderfully: the two great ballroom scenes were a feast for the eyes, thanks to choreographer Jeanne Slater, who sent her charges waltzing and polonaise-ing in delightfully intricate combinations. Adding to this production’s appealing look were the costume designs of Summer Lee Jack. In the pit, opera veteran Steven Mercurio brought out assured playing and a full-blooded sound from his orchestra of forty-nine. spacer 

MARC SHULGOLD

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