TCHAIKOVSKY, PUSHKIN AND SIN CITY OPERA
By: Hal de Becker
The opera ‘Eugene Onegin’ by Pytor Tchaikovsky, possibly Russia’s greatest composer, certainly of ballet music, is based on the novel-in-verse of the same name by that country’s greatest poet Alexander Pushkin.
Sin City Opera’s production of ‘Eugene Onegin’ at Winchester Cultural Center was, vocally and dramatically, an ambitious undertaking but an important one in the company’s evolution.
SCO has a well-deserved reputation as Las Vegas’s premier opera company in contemporary works like The Medium, The Consul, Postcard from Morocco and more. With major operatic masterworks like Eugene Onegin, the company moved to another plateau.
It was performed in English assisted by projected sub-titles. However, the poetic elegance, originality and depths of insight attributed to the author’s genius were not readily apparent. There is a saying alluding to the difficulty of translating Russian into another language: “It is worth learning Russian to read Pushkin.”
It may be more through the magnificent music that the Fateful pangs of first love, humiliation, regrets for what might have been, and the tragedy of senseless killing become palpable.
In the story, Onegin’s best friend, Lensky, introduces him to Tatyana, sister of his own beloved Olga. Tatyana falls in love with Onegin who rejects her and flirts with Olga. The jealous Lensky challenges him to a duel that results in his own death. Years later Onegin encounters Tatyana, now married, and realizes he loves her. She repels him and he wanders away in despair.
SCO moved the action from 19th century Russia to 20th century New York. The change was fitting: Onegin’s ennui, lack of ambition and direction is often associated with the youthful ‘lost generation’ of the 1920’s.
Opening night belonged to Marcie Ley in the role of Tatyana. Her singing and acting would have graced the stages of the world’s grandest venues. Vocally and dramatically she plumbed the nuances and emotional depths of the role and the result was a thrilling and convincing portrayal.
Matthew Kirchner sang well, but his enactment of the title role was wooden and he didn’t appear comfortable in the part. He also directed the production. Carrying both positions at the same time is challenging and artistically dangerous due to the risk that one or even both may not receive adequate oversight.
Stephanie Sadownik’s performance as Tatyana’s faithful nanny was sympathetic and persuasive. She was especially moving in a solo describing her past life and marriage.
As Tatyana’s husband, Prince Gremin, Ron Smith’s singing was adequate. However, his aristocratic bearing, natural, unforced acting, stage presence and clarity of diction were exemplary and refreshing.
Alex Rodin Mendoza, as Lensky, was at his best in Act II before the duel with Onegin. His acting was more convincingly emotional and his voice less strained in higher registers than earlier. He also overcame some of his stiffness of stance and movement.
Susan Easter acquitted herself well as Madame Larina, mother of Tatyana and Olga.
As Olga, Casey Gardner’s singing was pleasing but her exaggerated efforts to embody the wild, boozy gals of the Roaring 20’s approached parody.
Under the baton of Dean Balan 25 members of Nevada Chamber Orchestra played splendidly and their performance was worthy of the beautiful score. Being placed across the rear of the stage and seen in silhouette, they enhanced the production’s visual effect.
Toni Kendrick’s minimalist scenic designs were excellent. With a few pieces of furniture in front of a narrow, moveable panel she established the plot’s changing moods and locales. Ginger Land-Van Buren’s costumes and Eric Haufschild’s lighting also contributed significantly to the production.
Sadly and ironically, Pushkin, like Lensky, died in a duel, a real one. He was only 37.
Performances of Eugene Onegin run through February 26th. Tickets and information are available at 702-455-7340.