Cher Public

Duel exposure

Nathan Gunn (not really pictured) made his debut as Eugene Onegin in Cincinnati Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s opera  last night. He certainly has the physicality for the part and the vocal potential. In this performance he sang well and expressively but without the heft to fully project over the orchestra.

A convincing actor, Gunn had no trouble conveying Onegin’s magnetism but director Mark Streshinksi chose make him more of a cad, an approach I hate. More on that below. I hope Gunn keeps the role in his repertoire; he can surely develop the part and, in the hands of a capable director, create a solid Onegin.

Bill Burden earned the biggest ovations as Lensky and deservedly so. Burden was last heard here as Don Jose, and was that ever the definition of miscast. But here, he was perfectly suited to Lensky, singing with full out passion and intensity, from the exuberant first act aria to a heartbreaking “Kuda, kuda.”

Tatiana Moronagova, the extraordinary Tatyana. also garnered a huge ovation. She appeared in Dimitri Tcherniakov‘s controversial Bolshoi production in 2008 and got mixed notices; here, she triumphed with a gleaming tone that soared seemingly without effort. The Letter Scene was beautifully nuanced (no doubt it helped to have a Byronic looking Gunn as a silent presence) and she portrayed her character’s painful transformation from naive adolescent into a dignified woman tamping down the emotional turmoil with grace and poignancy.

There were fine supporting performances: Edyta Kulczak‘s radiant Olga, Stacey Rishoi‘s dignified Larina, Mika Shigamatsu‘s sympathetic Filippyevna.

Russian maestro Vasily Petrenko led members of the Cincinnati Symphony in a fine, idiomatic reading of the score, especially in the dances. The CO’s chorus were impressive, a wall of Russian sound with Wesley Lawrence‘s beautiful tenor solo.

For those who watched Stefan Herheim‘s fascinating production from Amsterdam, Cincinnati’s is decidedly retro, using sets from Indiana University. Onegin is a difficult character to address; after all, how can one convey boredom? Director Mark Streshinski decided to make Onegin a careless flirt, having him come on to one of peasant women in his first entrance. He receives Tatyana’s letter after ogling two more peasant girls and after glancing at the letter, laughs maniacally. (“Vulgar,” hissed my companion in the house.)

I’m not sure why a clutch of men needed to view the duel or why Tatyana and Olga would emerge as the shots are fired but it didn’t add anything, and especially having Onegin sink to his knees and sob his remorse. Ugh. Onegin is certainly conflicted but at least in this setting, he knows his place and it wouldn’t countenance mingling with the serfs. Another thing: in the Cherry Orchard scene, Onegin gives Tatyana’s letter to one of the peasant girls who, at the scene’s conclusion, hands it back to Tatyana, setting up a conflict with Onegin’s Act III declaration that he still has her letter.

 It’s no longer a novelty to hear Onegin sung in Russian. Not that long ago, most American productions were sung in English, as was Cincinnati Opera’s last offering in 1984. To my ears, the non-Russian performers had the language down and I hope we can expect The Queen of Spades before too long.