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The Israeli Opera Tel-Aviv-Yafo  האופרה הישראלית תל-אביב-יפו  

Yevgeni Onegin
4.0Reviewer's rating

Yevgeni Onegin is a truly great opera, titled after a male character that inflicts tragedy.

Whereas most heroes fall desperately in love at first sight and then battle various external obstacles, Onegin’s route to tragedy is littered with wrongdoings of his own making.  When the romantic country girl Tatyana offers herself to him, the selfish dandy from Saint Petersburg rejects her. He then goes on to flirt with her younger sister Olga just to spite his best friend and her fiancée Lensky – a careless act that leads to a fatal duel. After wrecking the lives of three people Onegin finally realizes he has also destroyed his own. He then returns to Tatyana, but it’s too late. Transferring Pushkin’s cynical hero to the opera stage, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky chose to give him a baritone voice, whereas the tenor part was handed to the rash young lover Lensky.

The production directed by Jean-Claude Auvray in 2003 was scheduled to return to the Tel Aviv Opera in 2019, but then Covid hit and everything was shut down. A couple of years later it has finally made it to the stage and it is well worth the wait – it’s well-acted, played, and sung too.

The curtain opens to a grove of birch trees with a carpet of white flowers covering the stage. This lovely sight stands for the garden at Tatyana’s house where she first meets the standoffish visitor from the big city.

The thin white trunks will stay a part of the scenery throughout the opera, as the action moves to different locations. In the second scene, which takes place in Tatyana’s bedroom, the trees in the background serve as a poetic symbol of her anguished mind as she writes Onegin a love letter while the moon slowly moves through the night sky. The young woman is completely enwrapped in her own torment, not listening to her nanny Filippyevna as she tries to tell her of her miserable life, being married off at 13 to a stranger. It is a touching moment that serves to characterize the egocentricity of young romanticism.

The same grove is the sight of the fatal duel, only this time the ground is covered with snow. In the third act, as the story moves to Saint Petersburg a few years later, the trees can still be perceived behind the transparent walls of the prince’s mansion, as a reminder of where Tatyana came from and where she would have been happy to stay had only Onegin opened his heart before closing hers.

Tatyana is the real protagonist of this opera and on the evening I attended the theater, she was beautifully portrayed and sung by the Russian born Israeli soprano Alla Vasilevitsky, who grew in front of our eyes from a shy bookish country girl who experiences the heartbreak of first love to a refined lady who has learned to live with disappointment. Israeli Shay Bloch was also lovely as the younger cheerful sister Olga. Larissa Tetuev, who once sang Olga, left a mark as the girls’ mother.

The men were not as strong. New Zealander Thomas Atkins has a sensitive beautiful tenor voice, however, occasionally it was overpowered by the orchestra. Dan Ettinger conducts outstanding orchestral and chorus performances. The Romanian Ionut Pascu’s Onegin performance excelled in performing the callous side of the character but didn’t achieve the tragedy, and when he begged Tatyana to give him a second chance he failed to convince.

Tchaikovsky’s lyrical opera is filled with gorgeous melodies, some inspired by Russian folk songs, but the biggest hit is probably Prince Gremin’s aria in the third act about love at any age. Happily, this mature and melancholy aria was beautifully serviced by the Russian Andrey Valentiy in his debut performance at the Tel Aviv Opera.

  • Opera
  • Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  • Conductor: Dan Ettinger
  • Director: Jean-Claude Auvray. Revival Director: Regina Alexandrovskaya
  • Sung in Russian with Hebrew and English surtitles
  • Set Designer: Alexander Lisyanski
  • Cast includes Alla Vasilevitsky, Shay Bloch, Thomas Atkins, Ionut Pascu
  • The Israeli Opera Tel-Aviv-Yafo  האופרה הישראלית תל-אביב-יפו  
  • 08 January 2022
  • Running time: 3hrs 20mins including interval

About The Author

Yael Shuv has been the chief film critic at 'Time Out Tel Aviv' since the publication of its first issue in 2002. Having graduated from New York University with a master's degree in cinema studies, she teaches film courses at the Open University of Israel. She has served as an artistic advisor for the Israeli Film Fund and as a juror in International film festivals such as Locarno, Venice and Rotterdam. She also loves Verdi, Puccini and Wagner, as well as Gershwin and Sondheim. Her children's book The Ice Cream Princess was published in Israel in 2011.

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