Spoleto’s Eugene Onegin: the Forest and the Trees

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Image Credit: from Charleston.com

THE TREES STOLE THE SHOW. Innovative and stunning in their own right (worthy of a modern art gallery), they dwarfed the singers, restricted the stage to one quarter of its depth, and distracted from the performance.

The otherwise stark set had a warehouse look and industrial feel that modern designers prefer but which leave audiences wanting. Unfortunately, going full abstract also eviscerated the Russian soul, nineteenth-century Russian nobility, and the deep anguish that lies at the heart of this story and each of its main characters.

The dance troupe was spirited but not professional caliber, which diluted the opera’s magnificence and sugared its gravitas. Incorporating the enthusiastic young dancers did add entertainment, yet it kept disrupting the story in a way that fragmented its severity and emotional impact. Too many dances also drew attention away from the opera stars and rendered most of the stage action more ballet-like than operatic.

The conductor, Evan Rogister, was excellent, especially given the length of the production and how in several instances he had as many as four soloists singing different lines at the same time. The chorus (Westminster’s own) was brilliant, and the lead soloists superb—most notably soprano Natalia Pavlova (Tatiana) and tenor Jamez McCorkie (Lensky). Baritone Franco Pomponi (Onegin) also stood out, not only with his fine singing, but as the most dramatically intriguing presence on stage. All the voices grew stronger throughout the evening to culminate in a pinnacle of emotion and musicality that no doubt would have pleased Pushkin and Tchaikovsky.

Also worth noting is Natalia Pavlova’s unique technique and gorgeous sound throughout her range. As was pointed out by my good friend, Lindsay Koob (whose contributions we have missed on CharlestonToday since he went to work for Delos Music), Ms. Pavlova’s Russian training is evident in her primarily sub-glottal sound—meaning that the sound originates more from the back of her throat, with the result that her high-end register has a creamier sound than most. It certainly does.

On a lesser note, the English subtitles for this production were inadequate translations. They robbed Pushkin of his poetry and made the characters’ self-reflections seem naïve, their dialog simple. This, Pushkin would be saddened to see. Nevertheless, because the music and singing were so good, and because everything shifted into a higher gear of intensity after intermission, the audience was on its feet once the curtain fell. Any imperfections they may have seen, or any artistic lack they may have felt, were quickly overridden by the concensus of a fantastic performance.

I suspect, though, that when their memory of Eugene Onegin surfaces a year or ten years from now, it won’t resonate with layers of personal tragedy and insights into Russia and Russian history—or with the sound of that rich, creamy voice.

It will be all about the trees.


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It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
~ Johann Goethe