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COC’s Eugene Onegin; an unabashed triumph!

(l-r) Joseph Kaiser as Lensky and Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Eugene Onegin, 2018
​Photo: Michael Cooper

The Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Eugene Onegin is remarkable on many fronts, but perhaps most importantly, its components all come together and just work in a very satisfying way. Dramatically, musically and visually it has everything that one could ask for in an opera. A superb orchestra, chorus and cast were given the direction, staging and lighting to make for a fabulous performance last night at the Four Seasons Centre, the second of eight performances this month.

While the production is new to the COC, it was purchased from the Met where it was performed from 1997 until a subsequent production in 2013 allowed it to be seen elsewhere. Although it is remarkable for the paucity of sets, the four blank walls become a wonderful backdrop for mood altering lighting effects that more than make up for the lack of chandeliers, columns and lavish realism.

The Original Director, Robert Carsen and Set & Costume Director, Michael Levine (both Canadians) along with Original Lighting Designer Jean Kalman gave Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece a brilliant which the title character is seen in the opening prelude as a miserable, lonely old man. The rest of the opera is a look-back at the events leading to his demise. The prelude opens in the bleak darkness of a bare stage behind a scrim juxtaposed with a tightly focused single spot-light shining on Onegin from directly overhead. The result is a powerful reminder throughout the remainder of the opera of the consequences of his actions. Kudos to Peter McClintock, Director of the COC version for the development of the characters and visually interesting staging. The Revival Lighting Designer, Christine Binder re-created the striking visual effects to accentuate each dramatic moment with stunning effect. 

Class snobbishness, artistic turmoil, romantic love, and Russian passion are all satirized in the opera’s undercurrents. Nevertheless, it is in the depth of the principal characters, Tatyana, Onegin, Olga and Lensky that the drama unfolds with all its emotional impact. Onegin, who rejects the honest and naïve Tatyana’s love because he would be bored in her country lifestyle, is seen as a shallow, cold-hearted aristocrat who, after shooting his best friend in a dual, is dressed for a ball without ever showing remorse. Tatyana returns as the heroine in rejecting Onegin in the final scene and precipitating his downfall. The story unfolds with all the emotional power of Tchaikovsky’s music making it one of the most often performed operas of the repertoire

Each of the principal singers was superb. Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana, Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin, Joseph Kaiser as Lensky and Varduhi Abrahamyan as Olga were vocally and dramatically brilliant. El-khoury held the audience in rapt attention for fifteen minutes as she wrote her love letter. Bintner’s best work is in the closing scene as he desperately tries to win the love of Tatyana with powerful singing and acting. Kaiser stopped the show with his emotional farewell to life scene conceding he will die a forgotten poet. Others is the cast were first rate: Helene Schneiderman as Madame larina, Margaret Lattimore as Filipyevna, Samuel Chan as a Captain, Christophe Mortagne as Monsieur Triquet, Joel Allison as Zaresky and Oleg Tsibulko as Prince Gremin. 

​​Review by  David Richards
Toronto ON October 5th 2018

(centre) Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana and Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Eugene Onegin, 2018
​Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Eugene Onegin, 2018: ​Photo: Michael Cooper

The music of Tchaikovsky is always endearing, but with the beautiful sounds from the COC orchestra led by Conductor Johannes Debus, it delighted in the melodic passages, the folk-like dances, the military band music, and the lush harmonies of the strings. The opening of the duel scene has especially poignant string playing.

I was especially impressed by the work of the COC chorus. Forty-five singers under the direction of Chorus Master Sandra Horst had more than the usual amount of work in this opera, both singing and dancing. I loved the thrilling women’s voices in the opening of third scene of Act I.

Eugene Onegin will continue its run at the Four Seasons Centre on October 10, 18 , 20, 26, 30, and November 3, ,2018. The world premiere of Hadrian with music by Rufus Wainwright and libretto by Daniel MacIvor will be performed October 13, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25 and 27.