The Canadian Opera Company opens its 2018-19 season with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
There are some excellent things about Eugene Onegin at the Canadian Opera Company to open the season: Joseph Kaiser, the French horn, and the direction of Peter McClintock. While I did not find myself carried away (as I would always prefer to be at the opera) I did feel nicely eased into the season, and felt as though it would be an equally nice way to ease a theatre-lover into opera appreciation.
Onegin (sound confident, pronounce it on-YEH-gin with a hard G like gate) is a simple enough story with a relatively small cast of primary characters, so it’s easy to follow: a girl likes a wealthy playboy and writes him a love letter to say so; he declines her advances on the grounds that he is “not suited to marriage.” Same boy flirts with her sister at a party, gets called out by the sister’s suitor, they duel. In the last act, the boy re-meets the girls some years later – after she’s married – and professes his love to her, but she sends him away and remains true to her vows.
The staging is, if not cold, perhaps distinctly chilly. The stage is covered in leaves, and it’s apparent from the outset that this is not about the heat of summer love. This is about the melancholy of love spurned, and then wanted, only to find that it is no longer available. But other than the many leaves and a battalion of chairs brought on and offstage by supernumeraries, there’s very little set at all. I confess that I prefer a grander spectacle, generally, and this production always seemed a little workshop-y in the staging, like it was waiting for the rest of the items to be available after the mainstage was done with them.
The performances, however, were very warm. COC favorite Joyce El-Khoury was excellent as always, and I was really overwhelmed by tenor Joseph Kaiser – he found a deep place, both musically and in his acting, during the central “Kuda, kuda vi udalilis” that was absolutely transporting. There wasn’t a murmur, not even so much as a breath in the audience as he sang. I found it worth the price of admission just for those seven splendid minutes. I must also praise the work of the chorus, which was in particularly good voice through this production.
And while I have not been the biggest fan of conductor Johannes Debus over time, especially his tendency to let the orchestra overwhelm voices (especially the coloraturas) on stage, he coaxed the most extraordinary, most evocative, most absolutely heartrending performance of a French horn I have ever heard in my long and lucky life. It made the hair on my arms stand up with excitement.
There was also a lot of acting to enjoy in this production of Onegin. Director Peter McClintock gives the audience a generous helping of moments and touches that really define and elevate the characters. Nanny gets the best of this, from her illicit crunch of an apple to holding Onegin’s gloves and Tatiana’s scarf together to her heart, but other characters get plenty and if the stage is spare the acting is abundant. An overall interesting production, and an accessible one, with bolts of pure and transporting musical joy.
- Eugene Onegin is playing until Nov 3, 2018 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
- Show times are 7:30 PM on Oct 10, 18, 20, 26 & 30 with a 4:30 matinee on Nov 2rd.
- Ticket prices range from $35 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
- Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653).
Photo of Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana and Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin by Michael Cooper