|Clara Lisle as Tatyana in Mannes Opera's production of Eugene Onegin|
(photo courtesy of The New School)
If you want to hear a valid rendering of Tchaikovsky's luscious score, get yourself to John Jay College's Gerald Lynch Theater by 2:00 this afternoon. Maestro Julian Wachner, using his expressive body (and no baton), leads The Mannes Orchestra in fine fashion, laying down a silken carpet of strings, and bouncing the themes around among the various wind sections. We heard some mighty fine solos from the oboes, horns, and trombones.
We were happy with the fine singing of the cast, comprising soprano Clara Lisle dealing with Tatyana's desire, anxiety, rejection, and ultimate dignity; mezzo-soprano Wan Zhao as her flighty sister Olga; baritone Hyunsoon Kim as a rather likeable Onegin; and the terrific tenor Oleksii Kuznietsov, well remembered from his stint with IVAI, as the ill-fated Vladimir Lensky.
This Ukrainian tenor was so superb in his deeply felt and carefully modulated "Kuda, kuda" that when he was shot by Onegin in the duel scene, we were wishing that the director Jordan Fein had been shot instead.
Although there was thankfully no lengthy exegesis in the program to "conceptsplain" the production, we were left to our own devices, trying to figure out the point of betraying Pushkin's verse to such an egregious extent.
This story is rooted in Russian soil and the times of serfdom and duels. Fein's iteration places it absolutely nowhere and in some amorphous contemporary time. We were surprised that Tatyana did not write her letter to Onegin on a laptop and that her name-day party guests were not taking selfies on their phones.
The story cannot be shoehorned into a modern dress production. It simply DID NOT WORK! The duel scene was a joke with Onegin's "second" a drunken passed out Triquet (Jens Ibsen, whose tribute to Tatyana was delivered in French not worthy of an identified Frenchman). Onegin and Lensky just pulled pistols out of their respective backpacks and shot at each other.
The chorus sang well but instead of peasants they were just a group of young friends of the Larin girls who called Madame Larina "Mother", causing us to question "Did Madame bear 19 children or did she adopt them?" They sang of hands hardened from work! The work of studying?
When the two young men are discussing the sisters, the girls are standing right next to them! And why was Madame Larina coming on to Onegin?
The party for Tatyana's name day involved some of the worst choreography (Chloe Kernaghan) we have ever seen. There was absolutely no relationship between Tchaikovsky's music and the movement of the young guests. Come to think of it, there was the same problem in Act III at Prince Gremin's ball where the guests were doing some kind of conga line. The audience tittered.
Terese Wadden's costumes were similarly rebarbative. The young folks wore short shorts and backpacks. Madame Larina was rather more bejeweled than one would expect in the provinces. Only in Act III were the singers dressed appropriately with Gremin and Onegin in dinner jackets and Tatyana in a long gown.
Amy Rubin's set was nothing but a curved wall with chalk writing on it. It served to alter the acoustics with a few dead spots, impairing the audibility of the singers who deserved better.
Now that we have gotten our dismay off our chest, let us praise the singers for doing a swell job with this difficult opera. Although we do not speak Russian, it sounded fine to the ear. Roles were performed sensitively with good variety of coloration.
Bass Michael Pitocchi made an excellent impression as Prince Gremin as he sang of his love for Tatiana and how it changed his life. Taryn Holback sang the role of Madame Larina; Perri Di Christina made a fine Filippyevna.
Each young artist succeeded in making us care for their character which was quite an achievement since they had to surmount an insulting production.
(c) meche kroop