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Onegin Soothes Miami’s Cold Snap?

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
01/28/2017 -  & January 29*, 31, February 3, 4 (Miami), 9, 11 (Fort Lauderdale), 2017
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Op. 24
Lyubov Petrova (Tatyana), John Brancy (Eugene Onegin), Martín Nusspaumer (Lensky), Courtney Miller (Olga), Alex Soare (Prince Gremin), Robynne Redmon (Madame Larina), Denyce Graves (Filippyevna), Dominick Corbacio (Monsieur Triquet), Calvin Griffin (Zaretsky) Benjamin Taylor (A Captain)
Florida Grand Opera Chorus, Katherine Kozak (chorus master), Florida Grand Opera Orchestra, Alexander Polianichko (conductor)
Jeffrey Marc Buchman (director), Peter Dean Beck (scenic design), Howard Tsvi Kaplan (costume design), Helena Kuukka (lighting design), Rosa Mercedes (choreography)

L. Petrova, J. Brancy (© Brittany Mazzurco)

Florida Grand Opera presented Eugene Onegin for the first time in 2000. It was a fine production with a solid cast but not well attended. The smallish audiences had nothing to do with lack of interest; it was a result of the Elián González crisis when many roads leading to the Dade County Auditorium were blocked for demonstrations. So this is really the first time that Miami gets to experience Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera.

Those used to hot Italian passion will have a much different experience. With Onegin, the emotions are cool and intensely controlled. But the distinctly Russian flavor makes us eager to follow this tale to its end alluringly unsatisfying end. The libretto is actually quite simple on the surface. The story is not a complex one. But each dilemma offers a myriad of options. And on top of that each audience member brings his or her own interpretation.

Eugene Onegin is not offered often. This time I found myself with an entirely different attitude about the title character. He is cold and pompous. But it is important to understand that Tatyana saw something in him significant enough to create her first love. His response to her letter shows intense affection for her, expressing the mentally significance of the intimate time shared. When Olga teases Lensky in the second act it is because Onegin is so much fun. There is something much deeper inside this man that makes him eternally unhappy. It is hard to believe that in the last scene, his reacquaintance with Tatyana, could have really led to his fulfillment. But maybe? This is what makes this opera so mesmerizing. There are no easy answers. We have to work; something that is rarely expected in theatre these days.

And musically Onegin is unquestionably one of opera’s most beautiful. Themes that identify Tatyana and Lensky linger long after any performance or recording ends. And the character roles offer tremendous charm and insight into what will happen to the lead character.

For both music and drama Florida Grand Opera’s production ranks with its greatest. Starting with the luxury casting of Robynne Redmon and Denyce Graves as the mother and nursemaid of Madame Larina’s daughters. Redmon movingly describes her own marriage and tells of her regrets as she learned to settle for routine. This characters harbors the truth that we will see play out by the end. Always dignified and charming, she is contrasted by the extroverted enthusiasm of Denyce Graves’ Filippyevna. Graves has come a long way. She was a wonderful Carmen and Salome 15 years ago but it is amazing to see how she has carried her gifts to smaller roles like this one (her Herodias in Palm Beach was unforgettable). The smaller male roles of Triquet and Gremin are offered by Dominick Corbacio and Alex Soare (members of the hugely talented Florida Grand Young Artist Program). Corbacio’s impressive legato makes Monsieur Triquet’s charming little song unusually touching. Soare finds the right element of gratitude and the necessary pinch of worry that Gremin finds in his unexpected marriage; greatly moving and beautifully sung.

It is hard to know where to start with the leads. Olga must exhibit contrast to her sister. Courtney Miller has a smooth mezzo and with her subtly commanding presence providing the joie de vivre that is not often found in this opera. Lensky is one of the really big tenor roles; to pull it off effectively, he must be a powerfully voiced singer who can easily float his notes yet at the same time whole heartedly express his passion for his fiancé. In previous roles at Florida Grand Opera, Martín Nusspaumer gave this company a Pinkerton of tremendous dimension and a Nicias (Thaїs) of surprisingly startling depth. So it comes as no surprise that he takes both the drama and vocal demands of Lensky to levels we rarely find.

Tatyana owns the first act. In fact if she doesn’t give a knockout Letter Scene, then the next two acts are pointless. Here we get the beautiful Lyubov Petrova. Not a note is unfelt and the physical acting within her mini-opera is unforgettable. How nice to see that Petrova progressed from bel canto to something as meaty as Tatyana, the dream role of every Russian soprano. Not surprisingly the title character has the toughest role in this opera. Certainly not because of the vocal demands, unusually this time,quite the opposite. The snippets he gets must make us maintain focus on him until he releases an enormous suppressed sound (using Tatyana's music) as he tries to find a purpose. John Brancy has the essential combination of talents to keep an audience gripped.

Add to this the great Florida Grand Opera Orchestra (led by the subtle yet authoratative Alexander Polianichko) and Chorus (never sounding and looking so good; Lievens Castillo, what a voice!), a brilliant design team (taking us from reality into sometimes dreamlike states) and even the simple graceful choreography of Rosa Mercedes. Jeffrey Marc Buchanan’s quiet direction makes it effortlessly easy to find the meat in this most special opera. With great weather and theatre like this, why live or vacation anywhere but South Florida?

Jeff Haller



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