Archive for March, 2017

PostHeaderIcon Two Lovers & Two Letters

It is customary in fine restaurants to serve an amuse-bouche between multiple courses. It serves as a palate cleanser and a satisfying respite., After Lyric Opera‘s rich diet of grand operas this season, from Das Rheingold and Les Troyens to Norma, that seems like the appropriate analogy for its current winning production of Eugene Onegin.

Director Robert Carsen,  whose six previous Lyric productions include the 2007-08 “Onegin” and the 2006-07 “Dialogue des Carmelites”, has masterfully stripped the story of a young girl and a worldly sophisticate down to its essential elements: infatuation, dismissal and role reversal. The staging is a stunning minimalist design of great beauty and simplicity.

Mariusz Kwiecien and Ana Maria Martinez

Mariusz Kwiecien and Ana Maria Martinez

The setting is a St. Petersburg estate in the 1820s, where little of consequence happens and the inhabitants grow bored. Imagine any play by Chekhov, from The Cherry Orchard to Uncle Vanya, transposed to the operatic stage and you have the picture. Madame Larina wants to make good marriages for her two daughters, Olga and Tatiana. During the harvest celebration, Olga’s fiance, Vladimir Lensky, a poet and his friend, Eugene Onegin pay a visit.

The leading roles were perfectly cast with Mariusz Kwiecien as Onegin and Ana Maria Martinez as Tatiana. Kwiecien delivers rich, Russian tones. Martinez is the ideal lyric soprano the score demands. Visually, Kwiecien is a handsome lover, with the right aristocratic bearing and Martinez is appropriately petite with a youthful appearance. Each sang beautifully, with the vocal highlight of the evening being the Third Act’s passionate duet, their only vocal appearance together.

Carsen opens the opera with a very smart bit of stagecraft. He has a spotlight capture Onegin in a chair reading Tatiana’s fateful love letter, then repeats the image at the start of the third act. But, this time, it’s Tatiana reading Onegin’s impassioned letter. Besides the direction, credit must also be given to the original lighting designer, Jean Kalman. Her superbly suggestive use of color–shades of orange, deep blue, gold and peach– conveys times of day or seasons and renders the need for scenery superfluous. Quite clean and simple.

During Lensky’s visit, Tatiana is quite smitten with Onegin and, that night, pours her heart out to him in a lovesick letter. Onegin treats her note as an innocent girl’s infatuation. While touched, he cannot accept her love since he would quickly grow bored with domestic life. He can only love her like a brother. Tatiana is devastated.

When they meet again several years later, Onegin has traveled the world seeking excitement but returns home, bored and still seeking meaning. He attends a ball given by his cousin, Prince Gremin, and discovers that Tatiana is now a mature beauty and Gremin’s wife. Onegin now finds himself in love with her and implores her to run away with him. But now, Tatiana, though she still loves him, resists remaining true to her marriage vow. Onegin is the devastated one, realizing his chance at true love, once so freely given, was now forever lost.

You have five more opportunities to hear Tchaikovsky‘s lovely melodies with the next performance on March 8th. The opera is being performed through March 20th. For tickets, go to