OPERA NEWS - Eugene Onegin
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In Review > North America

Eugene Onegin

DALLAS
Dallas Opera
10/28/16

In Review Dallas Opera Onegin hdl 117
Aksenova, Bondarenko and Kazakov in Act III of Eugene Onegin at Dallas Opera
© Karen Almond/Dallas Opera

DALLAS OPERA OPENED its sixtieth season on October 28 with a Eugene Onegin staging originally conceived by Jean-Claude Auvray for the Israeli Opera Tel Aviv-Jaffa and revived in Dallas by Regina Alexandrovskaya. The production featured semiabstract sets by Alexander Lisiyansky: the curtain rose on a stand of bare birch-tree trunks, a field of flowers, a grand piano and a hammock. Indoors and outdoors blended seamlessly throughout the action. In the duel scene, some of the trees were splintered, others had fallen; in the final scene, a giant chandelier lay shattered on the ground for the leave-taking of Tatiana and Onegin. Laurent Castaingt’s lighting designs, both subtle and spectacular, moved the action along from day to evening, from autumn warmth to wintry chill.

Emmanuel Villaume drew beautiful sounds from the Dallas Opera orchestra. During the twelve minutes of Tatiana’s letter scene, he allowed Tchaikovsky’s textures and colors—especially in the harp and the flickering winds—to portray the heroine’s changing moods and her transformation from nervous adolescent to strong-willed lover.

The quartet of lovers offered, appropriately, the most impressive singing. In their U.S. debuts, Estonian mezzo Kai Rüütel and St. Petersburg-born soprano Svetlana Aksenova took the parts of the Larin sisters. Their voices blended beautifully in their opening duet. The silver tone of Rüütel, cast as the fun-loving, fair-haired Olga, balanced the darker, brooding soprano of Aksenova as the melancholy Tatiana. 

In the letter scene, Aksenova’s full-throated Tatiana moved from uncertainty to resolve, from timidity to determination. In the final interview with Onegin, Aksenova’s Tatiana, now a sober matron but still capable of being touched by her former suitor, sang with a richer, more mature tone, reflecting her new status in society. The whole evening featured exquisite singing, but this final scene stood out as especially moving.

Andrei Bondarenko, who made his U.S. debut with Dallas Opera in the company’s 2015 Iolanta, commanded the stage from his entrance as Onegin. Not yet thirty, the Ukrainian baritone demonstrated considerable dramatic and vocal power, but one wished for more subtlety and color in his singing of this complex character. 

Stephen Costello made an ideal Lenski. He sang the impassioned Act I love song to Olga with golden, melting legato. In Lenski’s famous aria before the duel, Costello conveyed regret, nostalgia and foreboding with just the right amount of edge to color his doomed character’s heroic suicidal gesture.

There were no weak links in the cast. Meredith Arwady, a genuine, plummy contralto, filled the house with rich, earthy tones as Filippyevna; Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet conveyed requisite maternal solicitude as Madame Larina. Greg Fedderly performed Triquet’s little French bonbon energetically. Balancing world-weariness and hopefulness, albeit with some vocal thinness, Mikhail Kazakov did a reasonable job with Gremin’s aria.

Despite the glamour of the company’s traditional black-tie gala on opening night, the Winspear Opera House was not full, and the audience was restive and sometimes rude. People texted and talked, applauding before an aria had finished; at the end of the night, some audience members tittered when Onegin admitted his disgrace and remorse. This glorious opera—and this company’s fine production—deserved better. —Willard Spiegelman



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