Eugene Onegin Soars at the COC

The Four Seasons Centre.

I attended the second performance of the Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) production of Eugene Onegin at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on October 4th, 2018.  And it was worth every minute.

The production is new for the COC, although it debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1997.  The director is Robert Carsen, with sets and costumes by Michael Levine.  The COC Orchestra was conducted by Music Director Johannes Debus.

The performance starred Gordon Bintner (Eugene Onegin), Joyce El-Khoury (Tatiana), Varduhi Abrahamyan (Olga), Joseph Kaiser (Lensky), and Oleg Tsibulko (Prince Gremin).

I had seen the Met Opera’s Live in HD broadcast of this opera a few years ago, so I knew going into the performance that the sets were sparse.  However, with the exception of the scene with the duel between Onegin and Lensky, the minimalist sets works.  The few pieces of furniture made it clear what the location was and I was not forced to try and figure out where or when this production was taking place as is the case with many productions today.  The Duel was a bit of a let down as it took place behind a screen, so while we could see what was happening, it was not a clear view of the act.  It appeared to me as if the director wanted the scene to take place as a dream for Onegin – the screen was lifted after the scene and Onegin remained on stage for the scene change while his servants helped him to change for the ball in the finale act.  So did the duel really take place or was it Onegin’s dream?

The singing was phenomenal – Gordon Bintner was a fabulous Onegin.  He’s Onegin was youthful and arrogant – he was bored by the country, yet finally realized he loved Tatiana but only too late and was devastated by her rejection at the end of the opera.  Ms. El-Khoury’s Tatiana was young, and perhaps too naive in the first act – assuming that Onegin would obviously love her as much as she loved him.  But in the end, you could tell that she still had feelings for Onegin and that it was not easy for her to reject him and stay with her husband.

Mr. Kaiser’s Lensky was jealous in the second act – he truly seemed to see no alternative but to challenge Onegin to a duel – but in his aria prior to the duel it seemed that he knew that he was going to die and was willing to accept this.  Maybe he doesn’t really lose the duel (although, again was there really a duel or did this all take place as a dream?)

The COC Orchestra, under Maestro Debus, was moving and brought Tchaikovsky‘s music to life.  The sound coming out of the orchestra was nothing less than breathtaking.

The production runs until November 3rd, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.  Don’t walk, run to get a ticket if you haven’t already done so.  It will be worth the effort.

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