Eurasia Festival 2019 Review: ‘Eugene Onegin’ Highlights
Concert Staging Balances Sentiment with SatireBy Logan Martell
(Photo: Jonathan Levin)
The last night of the Eurasia Festival saw the artists returning to the Kaufman Music Center for highlights from Tchaikovsky’s cherished opera “Eugene Onegin.”
This concert staging was bolstered by excerpts from the original Pushkin poem, with the script adapted by pianist and Russian diction coach Vera Danchenko-Stern. Narrated by stage director Marc Verzatt, these excerpts served to frame the drama and provide a translation of the music numbers in lieu of supertitles. Verzatt’s delivery of the text ranged from sassy to sardonic, able to draw out subtler ironies and nuances without imparting too much of his own emotions. The choice of having a narrator, especially one such as Verzatt, created a sense of distance that allowed one to enjoy not just Tchaikovsky’s lush, expressive melodies, but the satiric bite of Pushkin’s text as it preceded each lyrical scene.
Providing the music was the Eurasia Festival Ensemble, conducted by Aza Sydykov, and comprised of two violins, and one each of viola, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, horn, and piano.
While the cast was reduced to the principal roles of Onegin, Lenski, Tatiana, and Olga, these four exuded a highly-polished sense of musical and dramatic expertise.
Astonishing Tenor & Mezzo
In the role of Olga, mezzo-soprano Anastasiia Sidorova’s sparkling demeanor did much to brighten heavier moments. This was felt early on in her opening duet with Tatiana; the distant, dreamier expression of the latter was tenderly chided by the smirk Sidorova wore as her lines alternated between filling her sister’s silences and weaving into a languid yet lovely unison. The final cadence of this number was given a resigned, almost sighing quality thanks to the presence of the clarinet stepping slightly forward in the musical texture. Through her arioso in the next scene, Sidorova’s Olga carried herself through open and delighted gestures, relishing in the limelight, but it was her moments with Lensky where she gleamed with a more gentle, and alluring, charm.
Opposite Sidorova was Chinese tenor Fanyong Du in the role of Lensky. His firm, malleable voice carried sufficient sweetness through the listless tempo of his arioso’s opening, creating a romantic yet leisurely atmosphere which intensified as needed. These passionate risings peaked with a high B-flat as Du returned to a gentler dynamic for Sidorova to join in.
His later aria before his duel with Onegin had a wounded, yet rugged bearing, which seemed to melt away as his thoughts turned to Olga; Du ended this section with a truly delicate diminuendo, the lingering sentiment of which carried into his return to the earlier section, now fleshed out in sorrowful detail as the aria came to a dirge-like ending.
A Tragic Pairing
As the title character, Gustavo Feulien exhibited tremendous vocal and dramatic gravity. His lines preceding his arioso introduced the audience to Fuelien’s utterly rich and dark, almost-brooding tones; the consolation itself had a softer nuance and was not without compassion, but his unflinching gaze said much of the honesty in his rejection of Tatiana.
Couple these traits with Fuelien’s imposing stature and you have an Onegin who is both charming and dangerous; the only ostensible shortcoming of his interpretation being the lack of Onegin’s pretentious and affected world-weariness. While it may have been worth exploring these traits given the efforts to restore more of Pushkin’s voice to the opera, Fuelien’s portrayal was undoubtedly compelling to see and hear, especially in his Act three arioso and closing scene.
Soprano Antonina Chehovska gave a radiant performance in the role of Tatiana. Her conflicting fears and passions during the letter scene were truly a thing of beauty; this could be heard not just by her gorgeous, torn vocal climaxes, but the expressions which lit or darkened the open book of Chehovska’s face. After the extended applause Chehovska received for her ardent rendition, it was humorous to hear Verzatt chiming in to say “But a day passed… no reply.”
She entered for her closing scene with a poised yet heavy bearing, a front which held long enough to be dispelled powerfully with a sonorous cry. While she resisted Onegin for much of their exchange, one moment of surrender saw Chehovska in Feulien’s armbrace, her head nuzzled into his chest as she delivered a gorgeous sustained tone. Just as the two are kneeling together, seeming to be on the verge of infidelity, Chehovska broke away with a strong vocal leap, coming back to her senses long enough to walk out for good.
This concert staging, while only running for roughly an hour and a half, achieved much through its emphasis on the most romantically charged numbers, with the Pushkin excerpts smoothing out the transitions between them.
The artistic vision of Verzatt and Danchenko-Stern testify to a deep understanding of not just the opera, but how to draw the most from its musical and literary sources to create drama. Just as important as the direction was the irresistible cast of singers. Chehovska in particular will be performing as Tatiana with Livermore Valley Opera in the upcoming 2019-20 season, something lovers of opera in the California region will not want to miss.
The performances of the last few nights have made for a truly powerful showcase of artistry, in what was the Eurasia Festival’s second year. It will be exciting to see how future iterations of the festival will bridge the cultural and geographic divide to share their talents with Western audiences.