Slow to Catch Fire, Onegin Eventually Triumphs

United StatesUnited States Aspen Music Festival (4): Soloists, Chorus, Aspen Opera Theater, Steve Mercurio (conductor), Wheeler Opera House, Aspen, Colorado. 10.7.2014 (HS)

Eugene Onegin: Craig Verm
Tatyana: Yelena Dyachek
Lensky: Benjamin Bliss
Olga: Alexandra Schenk
Madame Larina: Hyo Na Kim
Filipyevna: Nan Li
Prince Gremin: Alex Soare
Monsieur Triquet: Brad Raymond

Aspen Opera Theater took a while to get revved up, but when the cast clicked in the second and third acts they knocked Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin out of the park.

Even a somewhat clunky English translation could not stem the inevitable tide of Tchaikovsky’s lush and emotionally potent music to Pushkin’s tale of a rake who condescendingly rebuffs of a young woman’s love, provokes a fatal duel with his best friend, and lives to regret it. The music benefited from powerful voices in the leading roles, a lively chorus and a conductor (Steven Mercurio) who knows his way around the score. Edward Berkeley’s production hewed carefully to the Russian story and characters, creating some spectacular scenes along the way with a movable stands of birch trees, a few chairs, curtains and a bed.

Baritone Craig Verm sang the title character with panache, missing only some early charm to explain why he could attract the love of an innocent Tatyana, as whom baby-faced soprano Yelena Dyachek unleashed a formidable sound. Tenor Benjamin Bliss, who is scheduled to make his Metropolitan Opera debut in November, sang Lensky with vibrant intensity and real musicality.

The first act, however, found the whole cast just a little too careful for the passions they had to represent. The second act, which opens with a ball and ends in a duel, picked up the pace. Tenor Brad Raymond contributed an extravagantly fey portrayal as Monsieur Triquet at the ball and Bliss gave Lensky’s pre-duel aria beautiful shape and expression. The third act, in which a despondent Onegin returns from travels to find Tatyana married to a war hero prince, finally cranked up the intensity to the required level. Gremin’s wonderful bass aria lacked sonority and low notes but the final scene, as Onegin tries and fails to win back Tatyana, crackled with musical high voltage.

Harvey Steiman 

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