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OPERA REVIEW

Eugene Onegin Shines at Harvard

Lowell House’s Production Captures Russian Folk Scene

By Jonathan Richmond
ADVISORY BOARD

Lowell House Opera

Eugene Onegin

By Piotr Tchaikovsky

Lowell House, Harvard University.

March 9, 12, 14, 15 at 8:30 p.m.

The Lowell House Opera has achieved tremendous success with their new production of “Eugene Onegin,” which is well worth the trip to Harvard Square. Music Director Channing Yu has really gotten into Tchaikovsky’s atmospheric world, leading an orchestra of mostly Harvard students in a performance that never lags, and rises to moments of great excitement while evoking the contemplative, doleful, and richly colorful spirit of the score.

There are two casts for the production, and the one I heard Wednesday night was accomplished and well-balanced. It is no mean feat to memorize a lengthy Russian libretto, but the cast sang with confidence and polish. Leah Florence brought out the sufferings in Tatyana, the girl first rebuffed by Eugene Onegin, and who must later -- respectably married to an older man -- turn away the young love who has finally realized what he is missing. There was a dreamy quality to Florence’s singing, a beauty of line combined with a depth of feeling.

Recent Harvard graduate Sean Dunn was spot on with Onegin, capturing the bored dillettante nature of Onegin’s empty life, but bringing out the character’s eventual torture as he finally awakens to the reality that his selfish behavior has ultimately condemned him to rejection and loneliness. Singing with clarity and poise, Dunn seemed to have the very voice of fate, carrying the tale along to its inevitable tragic conclusion.

Timur Bekbosunov made for a fiery Lensky, his lyrical singing taking the character on his self-destructive route of love, jealousy, and death. Bekbosunov brought high drama to Lensky’s demented rage following his friend Onegin’s dancing with Lensky’s love, Olga. He sang with brilliant characterization and a maturity of vocal control and expression that was striking for this early stage in the New England Conservatory student’s career.

Harvard student Kate Nyhan was bright of voice as Olga. Adriane Shelton captured the right air of befuddlement as Tatyana’s nurse, Filipyevna, and Tania Mandzy contributed some evocative singing as Madame Larina. Michael Moss made a valiant effort with the rather difficult song of Monsieur Triquet, but was frankly overtaxed. Noam Elkies brought a sinister presence to the goonish second to Lensky, as he prepares for the duel. The chorus sang with much energy, and characterfully as well.

Anne Harley’s stage direction shone in many places: the larger group scenes were well-choreographed. The horror of the duel was especially well brought out, the ritual formalities carried out unhesitatingly by the seconds telling us that death must occur even as the protagonists realize the utter stupidity of killing a former dear friend.

But it was the music that reigned supreme at Lowell House, and for that Channing Yu cannot be praised highly enough. The woodwinds stole the show with simply ravishing playing that brought out the colors of the Russian countryside alongside the despair of suffering hearts. Their melodies were intoxicating and memorable. Apart from a few brief moments of thinness, strings were well-disciplined, producing a rich legato sound as well as building to excitement for scenes of high drama. They really let rip with great energy for the frenetic dance scenes. All in all, a remarkable production; go see it!