BWW Review: EUGENE ONEGIN at Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio

BWW Review: EUGENE ONEGIN at Thomas Edmonds Opera StudioReviewed by Bary Lenny, Sunday 7th May 2017

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky's three-act opera, Eugene Onegin, Op. 24, is an adaptation of the story by the great Russian poet, Aleksander Sergeevich Pushkin. This is the pinnacle of Russian Romanticism, and Co-Opera's director, Tessa Bremner MCA ASM OAM, has captured the spirit of the times beautifully. The company's musical director, Brian Chatterton OAM, brings out the glory of Tchaikovsky's music, with his talented and hard-working chamber orchestra telling the story as clearly as the singers.

A more elaborate than usual design, both in set and costumes, by Miranda Hampton, focussing on the peasant dress of the era, is skilfully lit by Joel Beclu, and leaves one wishing that one could still dress as elegantly, and as stylishly, as men did in times past, rather than the dreary, standard business suit and tie, or worse, of today.

Co-Opera, based here in Adelaide, subtitles itself Opera on the Move, and these four performances in Adelaide come near the end of a tri-state tour, with only a couple of locations in South Australia remaining to visit. From the high passion of this production, they will next present a comedy in The Marriage of Figaro, which is sure to please their audiences, being one of the most popular operas in the repertoire.

In Act 1, Eugene Onegin is introduced by his friend and neighbour, the poet, Vladimir Lensky, to the family of his fiancé, Olga. Her sister, Tatyana, is enthralled by Onegin and writes him a letter expressing her love. He rejects her and is most condescending in lecturing her to control herself in future, as not all men have his scruples.

The second act finds Onegin invited, some months later, to a celebration of Tatyana's name day, at which he flirts with Olga, driving Lensky to end their friendship and challenge him to a duel, at which he kills Lensky.

He leaves and wanders Europe, returning to St, Petersburgh in Act 3, years later, and he is attending a ball at which he finds that the country girl that he rejected is now the wife of Prince Gremin, and that she has become elegant and sophisticated. Getting her alone, he expresses his love for her, and she admits to still having feelings for him, but she stays true to her husband, leaving him devastated.

At the very beginning of the opera, the widowed Lárina reminisces about the man whom she had loved, but she had married another. At the end, history has repeated, with her daughter, Tatyana, married, but having lost the man that she had once loved.

During the season, a number of the principal roles are shared between cast members, who also take their turn in minor roles or the chorus, giving a wider range of artists a chance to expand their repertoire and show their abilities in main roles. This is good for both the company and its performers, developing new and emerging talent, as well as giving work to experienced artists. Unless other artists are mentioned, a role is played by only the one singer.

The three major roles, initially, are those of Onegin, Tatyana, and Lensky, falling back to the first two after Lensky is despatched in the duel.

Baritone, Eugene Raggio (role shared with Nicholas Cannon), sang the role of Onegin at the performance that I attended, giving us that Russian disinterest and air of boredom with everything, that defines this character. Raggio is commanding in the part, and definitely captures the Russian operatic tradition superbly. His rich timbre is ideally suited to the part of Onegin.

Soprano, Karen Fitz-Gibbon (role shared with Sara Lambert), played Tatyana, young, romantic and impressionable. She has been reading a romantic novel at the start of the opera and that must surely have had an influence on her falling in love at first sight. She is charming in the girlishness of those initial moments, then shows Tatyana's reaction to rejection, a sudden loss of innocence. At the end, she presents the adult Tatyana in her greater maturity, and these changes can all be seen in her acting, as well as heard in her singing.

Tenor, Branko Lovrinov (role shared with Michael Butchard, and Norbert Hohl), was Lensky, and what a marvellous interpretation of the role he gave us. His world collapses as he sees the man whom he thought of as a friend now betraying him by giving too much attention to Olga, and we see his indignation and anger rise. His lament as he goes to face Onegin in the duel is extremely moving.

Olga was sung by mezzo-soprano, Bronwyn Douglass, displaying strong emotions at the loss of her fiancé, Lensky, in the duel that need not, and should not have happened. She carried this sadness through the rest of the opera, marking a big difference from the happy and carefree girl of the opening act.

The whole cast is superb and their performances are committed and authentic, with some fine characterisations, right through from the principals to the chorus members. Co-Opera has produced another wonderful touring production, the latest in a very long line of works and, hopefully, a list that will continue to grow for many decades to come.

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