Opera News: Eugene Onegin
The following review by David Shengold is of Arizona Opera's Feb. 1, 2015 production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in Tucson.
Arizona Opera did very well by Tchaikovsky’s “lyric scenes”
Director Tara Faircloth’s production spun the narrative extremely cogently, with keen eyes towards detailing the characters in terms of movement, props, and — an increasing rarity in the surtitle era — responsiveness to sung text. The glamorous central couple — soprano Corinne Winters and baritone David Adam Moore, both in role debuts — are skilled, specific singing actors and embodied their testing roles with theatrical sophistication and passion. Laura Fine Hawkes’ extremely simple but eye-pleasing basic design featured large fabric drops — earth tones with leaves for the world of nature and white lace for Tatiana’s bedroom — plus smaller set units (doorways, food-laden tables) that the chorus and supers moved, allowing for pleasing flow between scenes. Costuming was traditional; Douglas Provost’s atmospheric lighting accomplished the rest. One visual lapse: surely Tatiana shouldn’t wear a tiara for the rustic opening scene, nor pearl earrings throughout Act I.
Moore sang beautifully and imaginatively, needing only further work on Russian vowels to make this a signature part. Winters, a vibrant presence vocally as well as visually, began the afternoon in rather angular, hard voice but by the letter scene had warmed to more pleasing tone and a wide dynamic palette; she, too, deserves more outings in this opera.
Next to these two powerhouses, Zach Borichevsky (Lenski) emerged comparatively unformed as a stage actor. One appreciated the still-developing Russian-American tenor’s clear diction; he seemed to approach the score with an eye towards where he could impress with full-out vocalism, currently his strongest suit. Finally, in “Kuda, kuda”, Borichevsky found some workable soft dynamics, if rarely the needed float (“V vashem dome” was launched at rehearsal pianissimo). Even greyed, Nicholas Masters looked rather young for Gremin but fielded an imposing instrument steadier on the bottom than up top. Luxury casting yielded Robynne Redmon (a Larina who joined gleefully in the Mazurka) and genuine contralto Susan Shafer (Filipievna) who contributed two more detailed, sonorous performances. Three Arizona Opera Studio Artists offered impressively pleasing work — Beth Lytwynec’s saucy, smooth-registered Olga, Calvin Griffin’s firm-voiced Zaretski and Andrew Penning’s well-sung, touching Triquet.
Eugene Onegin in Tucson: An Admirable Performance
In the pit, Steven White’s coordination with the stage proved admirable, his concept of structure and tempi convincing. Occasionally the players weren’t quite up to their tasks, with repeated horn blips marring the letter scene and later-act disjunctions both in the violins and celli. Henri Venanzi’s chorus held up their end nicely both vocally and musically — all the while carrying out the extensive, well-considered business Faircloth assigned them in successfully defining the opera’s shifting social spheres.
Absent a corps-de-ballet, Gabrielle Zucker choreographed logical and attractive movement for the chorus to execute, yielding apt blocking for an improvised peasant dance and a homey provincial ball. Zucker, with Spencer Smith, took on Act III’s potentially dazzling Polonaise and Écossaise as a virtuoso duo team, whose interaction sometimes reflected the Tatiana/Onegin tensions: an interesting, professional solution to budget restraints, and thus representative of Faircloth’s achievement overall. Her fine production merits attention from other regional companies.