It’s difficult to point out what it was, exactly, about this afternoon’s performance of Onegin that didn’t quite take flight. The minimalist production by Robert Carsen, with set and costume design by Michael Levine, was evocative, and perfectly captured the melancholy existential circumspection of the story. But perhaps for that very reason, the core of this piece—the tortured, dramatic music of Tchaikovsky—needed to command the stage, to fill all the empty spaces left in the set to invite the music in. Sadly, this didn’t happen to full effect.
Largely, the issue lay in a lackluster performance by the orchestra, which never quite built the climaxes that one knows and expects from the great Russian master. Johannes Debus brought nothing new to the work, and the orchestral sound—which should be alternately melancholy, thrilling, tortured even—sounded well worn, and slightly bored.
Working against this altogether sleepy production, was a powerful performance by Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana. El-Khoury managed to draw that dramatic arc from girl to woman with perfect grace, and the lyrical power of her voice brought a welcome sweetness to the role. Gordon Bintner, in the title role, was as chilly as an autumn afternoon… but sadly, unconvincing in Act III, when he discovers himself overwhelmed by passion at the sight of a newly transformed Tatyana. The most memorable performance was given by Joseph Kaiser, as Lensky, in the famous aria that precedes his death. Kaiser brought out all the passion that we were waiting for, singing with the heart and soul that was missing from the rest of this production.
One hopes that as the season settles in, this production will rouse itself to bring this masterpiece of Russian Romanticism the passion that it deserves.
- By Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- Libretto by composer and K.S. Shilovsky based on the verse novel by Aleksandr Pushkin
- Directed by Robert Carsen
- Production premiered by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, 1997.
- With Joyce El-Khoury, Varduhi Abrahamyan, Helene Schneiderman, Margaret Lattimore, Joseph Kaiser, Gordon Bintner, Samuel Chan, Christophe Mortagne, Joel Allison, and Oleg Tsibulko. With the Canadian Opera Company chorus and orchestra conducted by Johannes Debus
- Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto
- Sept. 30, Oct. 4, 10,18, 20, 26, 30, Nov. 3, 2018