SF Opera's Eugene Onegin
September 25, 2022
* Notes *
Robert Carsen's 1997 production of Eugene Onegin (Act II Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera this afternoon with a youthful cast of newcomers and the vibrant debut of conductor Vassilis Christopoulos.
The overture sounded stately under Maestro Christopoulos, who had his U.S. debut with this performance. Not everything was completely together, the women's chorus at the begining of Act I Scene 3 seemed off-kilter at first, and there were other moments of small moments of chaos, but nothing terribly egregious. The dance music in Acts II and III were all charming, particularly the Polonaise in the last act. The woodwinds and harp were all very lovely.
There were familiar voices, starting with the first two mezzo-sopranos on stage, Deborah Nansteel as Madame Larina and Ronnita Miller as Filipyevna. I distinctly remember Nansteel from Merola, her nice clear tones and Miller as being an incredible Erda in the Ring Cycle here in San Francisco. Veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto was moving as Prince Gremin in his Act III aria.
As for debuts on the War Memorial stage, most were quite strong. Mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina (Olga) has a beautiful dark sound but also a fine lucidity and resonance to her voice. Tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson was likewise winsome as Lensky, his voice is light and bright but has a pleasant heft to it, his Act I aria was filled with joy and his Act II aria absolutely plaintive.
Soprano Evgenia Muraveva has a delicacy that seems appropriate for Tatyana, shy and bookish, both in stature and in her sound. She was never shrill but the bottom of her voice is underpowered. Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner embodied Eugene Onegin rather well, he seemed so weird and awkward in his first scene, at first it was a bit difficult to see what Tatyana was charmed by, but it was a credible performance. The duel scene of Act II Scene 2 was convincing, as were the shifting feelings of Onegin in Act III. Bintner's last aria as he realizes he loves Tatyana was rich and warm (and maybe somewhat manical).
This production from Robert Carsen has been seen all over the world in its 25 years. The set is clean and open with PVC walls on three sides, and Act I features thousands of polyester birch leaves in many colors. For the most part, the space is defined by arrangements leaves or chairs, and it works well enough and isn't distracting. The revival here was done by director Peter McClintock, and everything went smoothly as far as I could tell.
* Tattling *
My 8-year-old insisted on attending this opera, as he had learned about Tchaikovsky in music class last school year. To prepare we watched the version on the Met on Demand app, as it is the same production. Oddly enough, I was in the audience for that performance.
At the matinée today he was able to sit mostly still for the 2.5 hour performance, and was quite attentive. He was pleased to be in Row T of the orchestra, as he has two initials that start with this letter. He patiently met all my opera friends and answered their questions despite his shyness. At the end he declared that it was "amazing" and "magnificent."