Many people are familiar with the music of Tchaikovsky, but may not know it. Y’know that “War of 1812” thingy that plays every 4th of July? He wrote that. And he even wrote that “Nutcracker” ballet that is played everywhere at Christmas.
But Tchaikovsky also wrote operas and last night we went to see Opera Carolina’s opening of “Eugene Onegin.” Based on the novel by Alexander Pushkin, it is a tale of unrequited love and bad life decisions. As Opera Carolina described it, “Eugene Onegin” is “emblematic of the period – a soul searching, highly romantic and passionate work.”
Passionate, indeed. The beginning of the opera very much focuses on Tatyana (performed by Dina Kuznetsova) and her love for the nobleman Onegin, who is played by Vasily Ladyuk. And Tatyana’s love for Onegin burns brightly. Only to be rejected by Onegin. “I’m not someone you should love” may have been the message, but the cold, calculating delivery screamed “Meh.” That is, if someone could actually scream “meh.” Because if that’s what you’re screaming, you’re putting in a lot more effort to be nonchalant than it requires.
Tatyana is obviously crushed, while Onegin pays her no mind and goes on his way. Later, at a ball, Onegin is obviously offended that people would say the same things about him that he actually told Tatyana as reasons why she shouldn’t love him. So to teach his friend Lensky “a lesson,” Onegin dances a waltz with Lensky’s fiance Olga. This infuriates Lensky because he feels his honor has been tarnished. With nobody there to talk any sense into either of them, they agree to settle their differences through a duel. The next day, Onegin and Lensky confront each other with Onegin winning their duel and killing his friend.
Years later, at another ball, Tatyana and Onegin meet again but under very different circumstances. While Onegin had spent the past few years travelling after killing his friend Lensky, Tatyana is now the wife of Prince Gremin, the host of the ball. Onegin sees her and realizes that he in fact, has loved her all along. Tatyana agrees to meet Onegin later where he confesses his true feelings for Tatyana. And while Tatyana still feels the same way about Onegin, she will not leave her husband, Prince Gremin. “We were so close to happiness. But it was not to be.” A classic tragedy and classically Russian all at once. A series of bad decisions with a tragic climax. This is definitely not the stuff of Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team fighting a pit of Kodiak bears. Although that decision was just as regrettable.
During the opera, it is very easy to sympathize with Tatyana. After all, we’ve all been rejected before and sometimes the sting that comes from that rejection takes a long time to get over. And at other times, you don’t get over it at all. It just gets pushed deeper and lower into yourself so you don’t think about it. Kuznetsova’s performance as Tatyana was everything you could ask for. You feel the peaks, the valleys and everything in between. In short, it was authentic. But to me, Ladyuk’s performance of Onegin was the one that really stood out. At times humorous, at other times passionate, but well executed from start to finish.
And just as the cast did a a superb job in performing Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s score was the ideal accompaniment for Pushkin’s tale.