Saturday, March 15, 2008

Who says its cold in Russia? Its hawt!

After nearly 14 months of planning, waiting for tickets and then the performance, I finally saw Tchaikovsky's masterpiece Eugene Onegin, presented by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role. Early in the season, Hvorostovsky pulled out of half the performances, causing a bit of anxiety on this part, seeing as there was really only one performance that I could attend. Thankfully, he was singing that night. In fact, this was the last night he performed the role in Chicago, and supposedly for the rest of his career, according to Opera News in September 2006. The production by Robert Carson (presented at the Metropolitan Opera last season, and telecast across the world February 07) also featured Dina Kuznestova as Tatyana and Frank Lopardo as Lensky. Kuznestova's Tatyana was heartfelt and beautiful, with liquid high notes and a perfect Letter Scene. In the final scene of the opera, her face clearly showed Tatyana's anxiety as she struggles with the choice in front of her, and we knew that her final rejection of Onegin was concrete.
I wasn't sure how I felt about Lopardo's Lensky; his was a sound I wasn't used to in the role, but by the end of his first scene, he had won the audience over. His interpretation of "Kuda, kuda", sung just before the duel, was wrenching and heartbreaking. His Lensky almost seems to know that he'll die, making the aria all the more tragic.

But of course, Eugene Onegin cannot succeed without a strong baritone in the title role. And we had Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a singer who's name has become synonymous with Eugene Onegin. I had seen the telecast of the opera from the Met last year, with Hvorostovsky and Renee Fleming as Onegin and Tatyana, and his Onegin was cold and unsympathetic towards Tatyana. However, his present Onegin was much warmer and his rejection was easier to take, although it still breaks that heart to see. Instead of simply rejecting her in the traditional "Its not you, its me" fashion, which is how Hvorostovsky played it at the Met, he was much more paternal in turning from her affection, wanting to protect her. Only his last line in that scene was as heartbreaking as always "Learn to control yourself in the future. Not every man will be as understanding as me." (loosely translated) The rejection is always painful, and nothing Onegin could have said would have been easy on Tatyana. His flirtation with Olga in the party scene would have worked on anyone in the audience, and he dances well too. =) He played with cards and talked with Olga during Triqiet's song, and ignored Lensky's despair at Onegin's flirting with Olga. The duel scene had no scenery, with only the singers and the drama onstage. Most of the scene occurred in darkness, with the sun only appearing after Lensky was shot. Instead of taking a break in between the duel scene and the Polonaise, the time was used rather well. Hvorostovsky stepped away from Lensky's body and proceeded to change his costume with the help of several footmen. Needless to say, shirtless Dmitri was worth the price of admission. =) But perhaps the most passionate and emotionally intense moment in the opera occurred after Tatyana's exit, when Onegin, alone on stage, cries out in his despair. Hvorostovsky could not have expressed that very despair with any more perfection; it ripped your heart to shreds, although it was much deeper than that.

We waited by the stage door after the performance hoping to get a chance to see some of the singers. Some annoying (and reasonably untalented) saxophonist whom had been hanging around after Orfeo two seasons ago was again playing on the sidewalk. We saw a small crowd in the entryway by the stage door, and, assuming they also wanted to meet and greet, we went it. It was a good choice. We saw a few singers leave, but we either weren't sure who they were or how to pronounce their names, as in the case of the spectacular Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow, who sang Prince Gremin. But after about 10 minutes, there was a collective "Ahh!" as Dmitri Hvorostovsky and his white hair were spotted.

To answer the obvious question; yes, Hvorostovsky really is that good-looking, to the point of being overwhelming. He knows how to work a crowd and signed programs and answered questions, from the normal to the obscure. I was about 5th in line to talk to him, which I did. I worked with a former Italian diction coach of his while I was Interlochen, so I made sure to mention her. He seemed pleased and asked me to send her his love. Will gladly do. He also was kind enough to let me grab a photo.
Of course, I could post much more about the whole experience, but I'll spare you. I will say that Eugene Onegin is an underrated opera, and I wish that more people knew it. Anyone can relate to it, because everyone has experienced disappointment and regret, not to mention that Tchaikovsky knows how to express human emotion in a way that no one else has been able to. I adore this opera.

Friday, March 07, 2008

One Week!

One more week until Eugene Onegin!

Photo from

Monday, March 03, 2008

More Countdowns...

11 days until Eugene Onegin in Chicago!