Onegin is a terrible person.
He is conceited, selfish, and foolishly naïve about how love works. He humiliates a woman who has expressed her love for him, he pretends to steal his best friend’s girlfriend and then kills his best friend in a duel. He then sets out to ruin the marriage of the woman whom he humiliated, and finally gets what he deserved; his comeuppance!
On this Valentine’s Day weekend, New Haven was treated to the Yale Opera production of EUGENE ONEGIN at the Shubert Theatre. I personally look forward to this weekend every year, because I know I will see some remarkably talented and hard working singers on the Schubert stage. I adore seeing emerging artists who are stepping out of their formal education, and stepping up into their professional careers on the operatic and concert stage.
As is always the case with the Yale Mainstage productions at the Shubert, the opera was double cast, and of course, I caught both casts. and I am ever so happy I did. I was not only treated to some fabulous singing, but I had the opportunity to see the Edward T. Moore’s beautiful set and projections, and Solomon Weisbard’s exquisite lighting from two different parts of the theatre. (Friday night I was in the center of the orchestra and on Saturday, I was in the balcony.)
Scotsman Paul Curran has an impressive list of credits in opera and musical theatre in companies all over the world. His direction was impeccable. The acting was some of the best I have seen at Yale Opera. The performances were honest, committed, and intimate. My understanding is that the cast adored working with Mr. Curran, and it is my opinion that he brought out the very best performances from these gifted casts.
(UPDATED FEB 18TH)
The supportive environment at Yale Opera…
…is evident on nights like this. Artists attend each other’s performances, and while I am sure there are moments when egos clash, the company shows absolute solidarity at the operas and recitals throughout the school year and beyond.
Friday evening’s cast was, for the most part, performed by singers who are in their second or third year of their degree programs. If you read my article on my interview with Lauren McQuistan (Fasten Your Seat-belts: November 24, 2018) you are already aware of how thrilled Lauren is to have been given the opportunity to play Tatiana. Lauren gave our young heroine the perfect degree of innocence and romantic naivete, that progresses to a confident, assured, more mature woman who is later confronted by the object of her youthful desires. Her passionate, yet thoughtful performance reflected an exciting growth in her acting abilities, that have continued to evolve throughout her time at Yale. Her voice is so suited to the role, and fit so well into the Shubert, I am excited at the prospect of hearing her in similar roles in even larger venues in the future.
Madeline Ehlinger, Saturday’s Tatiana played the iconic letter scene with the perfect combination of youthful energy and romantic confusion. Ms. Ehlinger used her entire body to show a young woman with a deep love for the despicable Onegin, as she bravely wrestles with expressing herself in the letter that he later rebuffs. Ms. Ehlinger is another student whose acting has greatly improved since the start of the school year. (Perhaps that was another gift that director Paul Curran has given the performers in this short time.) Madeline is in her first year, so I predict we will see much of her in the future on Yale stages.
Onegin is a hard role to play. He is both charismatic and unpleasant; attractive and shameless. He is so conceited that when he finally gets the rejection he deserves, he falls completely apart like a spoiled child.
Matthew Cossack, who has been quite visible in his time at Yale, played Onegin with a sneer. It was perfect. When he gets his comeuppance at the end of the opera, he is a sniveling, petulant, man child. I have always preferred this approach as opposed to the high drama that sometimes rivals Don Giovanni going to hell. The more dramatic approach to his demise was the interpretation preferred by Andres Benevides Cascante, who played Onegin on Saturday evening. Both Onegins possess beautiful baritone voices, although I feel that there was some unevenness in Mr. Benevides Cascante due to what I would describe as over-singing, particularly at the very end, which is also where I feel his interpretation let him down.
Luis Aguilar Regaldo, as Lenski, was his usual, superb, self. I LOVE the versatility that Luis is capable of. I am convinced there is not a role he could not pull off, and his voice gets better every time I hear him. John Chong Yoon Noh, who played Lenski on Saturday night sang the role with confidence and some very lovely high notes.
Rachel Weishoff was superb in the role of Olga, who becomes the reason Onegin kills his best friend. She has a gorgeous voice, that I am looking forward to hearing often in the future, and the girl can act.
Fidel Angel Romero in the small but delightful role of Monsieur Triquet sounded great, acted well, and became my hero of the night on Saturday as I found myself stranded without a ride home after the opera. As I have mentioned before, Angel sings with great ease and lyricism. And HE has improved a tremendous amount in his onstage craft. (I swear, if this is the result of one opera with Paul Curran, I hope they get him back OFTEN.)
Julia Orosz was delightful as Filipyevna. She is another wonderful singer with some acting chops. The bass aria that always stops the show, stopped the show with both Gremins. Both Brady Muth and Hans Tashjian were excellent.
Coming up next is a double bill on May 3rd and 4th, of LA ROSSIGNOL by Stravinsky, and Hoiby’s THE SCARF.
And don’t forget to keep your eye out for the student recitals in ALL departments of the Yale School of Music.