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Eugene Onegin ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
March 9, 2019 

Anna Nechaeva is wowing audiences in her Washington National Opera debut.  Nechaeva, in the role of Tatiana, hails from Moscow as do several of her leading cast members – Alexey Dolgov as Lensky of the dulcet tenor voice, Igor Glovatenko as Onegin, and Elena Zaremba as Madame Larina.  So, it was no surprise that the theater was crawling with Russians who were thrilled to pieces at seeing so much extraordinary Russian talent on an American stage.  A few Americans completed the leads with mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood as Filippyevna, and the marvelous mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann in the role of Olga.

Bolshoi opera star Anna Nechaeva makes her US debut ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Eugene Onegin, with its beautiful harmonies, dissonance and emotional fervor, hasn’t been produced at the Kennedy Center in 30 years.  It was an unusual opera for its time, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and based on one of the great works of Russian literature by Alexander Pushkin.  In 19th C Russia operas predominantly followed the European model, restricting productions to Italian operas.  This was in the early days of Romanticism that had derived from Western civilization.  Later Realism appeared which championed creativity and the Arts.  Tchaikovsky blended the two to create a new dynamic that had never been heard.

Bolshoi Opera star Igor Golovatenko makes his US debut ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

You can feel the great emotionalism in this opera.  These are real people in real life situations.  The stories are familiar and as close to a soap opera as you might imagine, yet they are secondary to the universal emotions of the characters, many of whom reflect the lives of both Tchaikovsky and Pushkin who was considered the greatest Russian poet.  Pushkin himself died in a duel as does Lensky and the exquisite aria before the duel references Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

The set design is the original minimalistic 1990’s set from the Metropolitan Opera.  Changing lighting reflects the time of day, birch trees give a nod to an iconic Russian tree, and autumn leaves show it is harvest season.  The dramatic opening in which Onegin appears to be floating above the stage in a pool of white light against a deep blue background, brings to mind the surrealistic paintings of René Magritte or Salvador Dali.   The lights soon brighten to a golden hue to reveal a stage covered with falling autumn leaves that show the older ladies singing of their satisfaction in the pleasures of domesticity.  “Heaven sends us habit in place of happiness,” they agree.

Filippyevna (Victoria Livengood) and Madame Larina (Elena Zaremba) share memories of their youth ~ Photo Scott Suchman

As the sisters, Olga and Tatiana, vie for Onegin’s love, Tatiana breaks down and writes him a letter pouring out her love for him.  This is one of her most glorious arias, as she vacillates between pure love and the torment of a love that cannot be requited.  Tchaikovsky’s music so incredibly portrays this duality of emotions.  By incorporating Russian folk music against the grand themes of royal cotillions and military-inspired nationalistic music, he captures the emotional emptiness of high society.

Lensky (tenor Alexey Dolgov) confesses his love to Olga (mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann) ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Three artists from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program perform.  They are Samuel J. Weiser as Captain; Joshua Blue as Monsieur Triquet; and Joshua Conyers as Zaretsky.  Eric Halfvarson plays Gremin.  With the Washington National Opera Orchestra, WNO Chorus, and WNO dancers.

Peasants delight after harvesting fall crops ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Directed by Peter McClintock with Original Production by Robert Carson.  Conducted by Robert Trevino in his WNO debut. Trevino will go on to be Principal Conductor of Malmö Symphony Orchestra.  Lighting Design by Christine Binder; Set and Costume Design by Michael Levine; Choreography by Serge Bennathan; and Hair and Makeup by David C. Zimmerman.

Highly recommended.

Performances are March 17th matinee, March 20th, 23rd, 25th and 29th 2019.  In the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

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