If you were to name two ballets, chances are The Nutcracker and Swan Lake would be among the first to come to mind. However, Tchaikovsky did not only write for the ballet, he also composed eleven operas. The Canadian Opera Company will present in the next few weeks Tchaikovsky's most famous opera, Eugene Onegin. Composed in 1877-1878, and premiered in Moscow, the 3 act opera is an example of Russian lyric opera. Before you head to the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, here are a few key features about the production you should know.
Four Characters, Zero Happy Ending
The character of Eugene Onegin reminds me of Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice (or if you are more familiar with Bridget Jones' Diary, then think of Mark Darcy). Cold, bored, this gentleman from the city is guided by the codes of high society and he scorns the country life. Hence, it is no surprise that he refuses the young Tatyana when she confesses her deep feelings for him in a letter. He also warns her to show more restraint in demonstrating her feelings in the future.
The main characters' tortured relationship is contrasted that of by Lensky, a poet and friend of Onegin, engaged to Olga, Tatyana's younger sister. Lensky and Olga are the direct counterparts of Onegin and Tatyana respectively. Lensky has a passion for life that is not found in Onegin's character, and Olga is more vain and innocent than her sister, pure and morally deep.
Onegin and Tatyana's character development, within the social conventions of that time, is quite interesting as the story unfolds and the tables turn. Years after their first meeting, Tatyana has become a worldly woman, married to a prince, and Onegin is a devastated man, having killed his friend Lensky in an unfortunate duel. When their paths cross again, it is now Onegin who declares his love for her. But Tatyana, bound by her duty, refuses him.
Emerging ARtists at the Forefront
Graduate of the COC Ensemble Studio, bass-baritone Gordon Bintner returns to the COC in the title role, alongside soprano Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana, which is bound to make an impressive and unforgettable duo. I have already seen Bintner perform in the COC's production of The Elixir of Love as well as Opera de Montreal's Don Giovanni, and both times I have been amazed by his authentic portrayal of the characters, whether humorous, romantic, or dramatic.
I have not yet seen Joyce El-Khoury perform, but I have been following her career for a while. A graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, she has performed with notable opera companies around the world, such as Teatro Real and the ROH, soon adding Opera Australia to the list. She'll also be heading to Montreal later this fall for a recital as part of the Arab World Festival. On another note, I strongly suggest following El-Khoury on Instagram as she often shares backstage content on her Insta Story as well as some great stage shots on her feed.
A Metropolitan Opera production
Minimalistic, this production by Canadian talents Robert Carsen and Michael Levine was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1997. The stage is almost bare, with just a few props, leaving all the space necessary for the intense emotions and dramatic, tormented music to come through.
The video below is an excerpt of the final scene of the Met's production, featuring Renee Flemming as Tatyana and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin.
The Famous Letter Scene
In Act I, scene ii, Tatyana writes a letter to Onegin pouring out her heart and feelings for him. Her aria in the famous Letter Scene, is the centerpiece of the opera. Similar to Wagner's leitmotiv, the musical themes of the aria appear throughout the opera, up to the final dramatic duet.
I recommend listening to Opera in 10 Podcast : Eugene Onegin, where Ensemble Studio pianist and coach Stephane Mayer explains various moments and music pieces of the opera.