Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House
March 8, 2017
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Op. 24
Mariusz Kwiecień, Eugene Onegin
Ana María Martínez, Tatiana
Charles Castronovo, Lensky
Alisa Kolosova, Olga
Jill Grove, Filippyevna
Dmitry Belosselskiy, Prince Gremin
Alejo Pérez, conductor
Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra
Robert Carsen, director
Michael Levine, set designer
Based upon Pushkin’s seminal novel in verse of the same title, Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous Eugene Onegin is one of the most Romantic of all the great Romantic operas. An impressive close to the 2016-17 season, Lyric Opera revived Robert Carsen’s production, originally created for the Met, under the guidance of revival director Paula Suozzi. The sets were of utmost economy, focusing one’s attention on the essential without gratuitous distractions, fitting for a work that ultimately favors expressiveness over flamboyance. Stark as it may have been, the set never felt cold thanks to the thoughtful lighting design – for instance, much of Act I was basked in a warm orange glow.
In a splash of autumn colors, the opening scene was highlighted by the ensemble pieces, notably a quartet which included the first interaction between Tatiana and Onegin. Mariusz Kwiecień was an expert Onegin, imbuing the role with the same cocky swagger he gave to the title character of Don Giovanni in the 2014-15 season. Ana María Martínez played Tatiana with a sweet and charming innocence, although she was regrettably in less than top form as it was announced from the stage she was suffering from a cold. Olga and Lensky were portrayed by Alisa Kolosova and Charles Castronovo respectively, and they were especially affecting in the duet in which Lensky passionately declared his love.
Martínez’s biggest moment in the spotlight was in the celebrated Letter Scene, accompanied by some very fine playing from the solo oboe in the pit. Having stayed up the entire night putting her feelings to paper, daybreak inevitably came, and was reminiscent of that from Wagner’s Siegfried – and indeed, Tchaikovsky witnessed the Ring firsthand at Bayreuth. Onegin expectedly rebuffed Tatiana’s youthful interest, given with an even-keeled equanimity, and the two exited the stage arm-in-arm as mere cordial friends.
Act II opened with a lilting waltz; after Lensky caught sight of Onegin dancing with Olga he challenged him to a duel which ultimately proved to be his demise. In the solo aria that followed, alone on stage, Lensky meditated on the meaninglessness of the situation in which he had embroiled himself, arresting in its deep Tchaikovskyian melancholy. The final act takes places several years later, however, in a perplexing stage decision it followed without pause. The beloved polonaise was given a big-boned performance by the orchestra, conducted by Alejo Pérez in his Lyric – and American – debut. Indeed, the prevalence of dance in the opera reminded one that this was coming from the pen of the greatest ballet composer of the nineteenth century.
At last having developed feelings for Tatiana, Onegin found himself lost in the ennui of a Byronic aimlessness. Though Tatiana admitted her feelings have persisted, she ultimately rejected him, not wanting to ruin her amiable marriage to the Prince Gremin. Onegin is left to regret his fate, and to forever wonder what could have been – hardly dramatic by operatic standards, but an emotionally charged ending to be sure.