Opera Colorado couldn't have made a better choice for its first Russian opera than Eugene Onegin, which weds the work of two of the greatest artists in the history of that country. The music is composed by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky who fashioned the libretto based on the Aleksandr Pushkin's exquisite narrative poem of the same name.
Set against a stand of birches, with only minimal furniture, director James Robinson's production evokes the solitude of Russian life, and deftly turns the story in on itself, focusing its impressive power on the emotional life of its characters. In this sense, Tchaikovsky's departure from the traditional large-scale pageantry of grand opera and emphasis instead on the inner landscape parallels the growing psychoanalytic movement of the late 19th Century.
Mel Ulrich's Onegin is every inch the cultured gentleman, idle and self-absorbed, yet a gallant and romantic figure to Emily Pulley's modest and idealistic young Tatyana. Equally compelling is the other romantic liaison, Andrew Richards' congenial and stalwart Lensky and Mary Ann McCormick's sweet and carefree Olga.
Richards is especially thrilling, first in his passionate love song to Olga, worthy of any Italian opera, and finally in his plaintive lament prior to his duel with Onegin. Pulley's heartfelt entreaty to Onegin is soulful and remarkably strong throughout its lengthy journey, while Ulrich is tender and bittersweet observing his own dispassionate state when rejecting Tatyana's advance. In the final scene, their duet is volcanic, yet filled with pathos. McCormack's dulcet and playful air, as the younger sister, Olga, provides a bold contrast to Tatyana's angst. Mikhail Kit's rich, deep timber, in the Prince's ode to Tatyana, filled the hall.
Stewart Robertson shapes a fine, expressive performance from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. While Eugene Onegin is a relatively unknown opera, this can be attributed to its few and far between performances, for musically, poetically, and dramatically it certainly stands up to the best. It runs through May 12th. 303-893-4100.