This weekend in Overture Hall, Madison Opera gives us a rare opportunity to see Eugene Onegin, the company's first Tchaikovsky opera in its 50-year history. The libretto, by Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Shilovsky, follows Alexander Pushkin's 19th-century tale about a young dandy (Hyung Yun, in the title role) who is bored with life and, when it comes to romance, loves the chase more than the woman.
The opera begins in the Russian countryside, where Madame Larina (Allisanne Apple) lives with her two daughters: Tatiana (Maria Kanyova), a young, innocent romantic, and the feisty, flirtatious Olga (Jamie Van Eyck). When Tatiana meets Onegin and falls in love with him, she stays up all night pouring her adoration and devotion into a letter that she asks her nanny (Jane Shaulis) to deliver. After he reads the letter, Onegin rejects Tatiana's love and lectures her on controlling her passions, leaving her crushed and shamed. At this point the opera becomes rife with the aftershocks of this blasé rejection.
One is that Onegin kills his best friend Lenski (Scott Ramsay) in a pointless duel. Years later, when Onegin sees a beautiful, older Tatiana in a glittering St. Petersburg ballroom, he realizes that he loves her and begs her to be with him. But his epiphany comes too late. She is married to Prince Gremin (Harold Wilson) and will remain faithful to her marriage vows, even though she still loves him.
Besides the unusual use of dance to heighten the opera's meaning, director/choreographer Candace Evans says that Onegin will also give us a unique language experience: "It's in Russian, and there is strength to the expression, rather like German. It's very accessible and emotionally linked." The English translation will be in supertitles.
Soprano Kanyova, who gave a heartrending performance as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly in 2008, is a perfect choice to bring out the emotion in Tatiana's role. Baritone Yun as Onegin, on the other hand, will have to hold his emotions in check until the final scene, when he comes undone.
This display of hot passion and cool distance, staged to Tchaikovsky's captivating music, makes Onegin a reflective opera experience. "The overriding theme is that of personal discovery through the consequence of one's choices," says Evans. "This opera will take the audience on a journey of memory, longing and learning. It's a cathartic, emotional look at the life path of others."