Eugene Onegin
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Eugene Onegin

Houston Grand Opera

HOUSTON GRAND OPERA's production of Eugene Onegin presented Tchaikovsky’s opera in a Robert Carsen staging originally created for the Metropolitan Opera in 1997 and now owned by Canadian Opera Company. The production vividly captures the opera's early nineteenth-century Russian domestic setting with impeccable costumes and sets by Michael Levine, exuberant choreography by Serge Bennathan and the distinctive formalities of period social decorum contained in the staging, directed for Houston by Paula Suozzi. This Onegin realizes the variety of moods and circumstances that unfold within that milieu, mostly (and ingeniously) by means of a vast-but-subtle palette of colors and intensities in the lighting by Christine Binder (seen Oct. 30).

Binder's lighting carried remarkable dramatic weight in this Onegin. Changing hues and ever-so-finely calibrated gradations of brightness depict the time (for instance, an ominous predawn fog) and the passing of time (two slowly-but-distinctly encroaching dawns), and they paint mood of each scene so as to preclude the need for much if any stage scenery and decoration. Even more impressive is the effect of recapitulation created by the repetition of one particular color, a portentous and haunting soft white, which underscores the link between the two parallel scenes of confrontation between Onegin and Tatyana—the earlier in which he rebuffs her, and the later in which she rebuffs him.

The characters of Onegin and Tatyana pass through emotional progressions that singers Scott Hendricks and Katie Van Kooten realized poignantly. His smoky, dark baritone and her warm, affecting soprano were each well-suited to the unhappy drama in which they played. Hendricks's Onegin first appeared as self-possessed, restrained, and formal, if also arrogant and condescending; he was brought by his eventual feelings of love to a state of ardor, wild animation, and even giddiness. Van Kooten's Tatyana, by contrast, was transformed from love-struck country girl to poised aristocratic lady, wounded and full of regret. 

Norman Reinhardt, a soulful rather than brilliant tenor, demonstrated an accomplished actor's command of gesture and movement as Lensky. During the scenes of Lensky's confrontation with Onegin and of the fateful duel that follows, Reinhardt's stage charisma, combined with effectively stretched cadence notes, created the most intensely dramatic moments of the opera. HGO Studio Artist Megan Samarin played Olga in all her lusty frivolity but was also able to register the character’s shock and despair when she sees that she has lost Lemsky. Samarin's rich mezzo-soprano lacked only the power to balance out the quartet of lovers during the opening scene.

The HGO Chorus, directed by Richard Bado, gave an especially distinguished performance that featured power, precision, and nuance in its ensemble singing. In a diversion from the weighty drama, tenor David Cangelosi’s Triquet preened and pranced in his comically overblown poetic serenade to an embarrassed Tatyana on her name day. Dmitry Belosselskiy, as the dignified, world-weary, but love-smitten Prince Gremin, sang a paean to Tatyana in a bass of such thrilling, silvery-smooth power—an extraordinary voice felt as well as heard—that the applause stopped the show for more than a minute.

Much of Tchaikovsky's score evokes the sound and style of early nineteenth-century classicism—delicate, detailed, and intimate. Michael Hofstetter conducted the HGO Orchestra with evident sensitivity that maintained clarity of texture and a balletic coordination of stage action and orchestral gesture.  —Gregory Barnett 

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