In Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky adapted Alexander Pushkin’s famous poem to tell a tale in seven ‘lyrical scenes’ of characters who, if they could have their time over again would probably have done things differently, for what is done stays done and second chances are not an option. Young love is rebuffed, effected boredom leads to cynicism, misunderstandings are compounded, growing jealousy breeds resentment, friendships are broken, rash decisions taken, stubborn pride prevents reconciliation, and no one wins in the end... all done to some very beautiful Russian music.

© Co-Opera
© Co-Opera

Co-Opera, an Australian touring company, is performing Onegin in its home base of Adelaide, before moving on to a remote mining town in the Australian outback. With a multi-level stage, cleverly designed by Miranda Hampton, interior to exterior settings are easily transposed, and colourful costumes convey an authentic Russianness.

Sara Lambert played the elder sister Tatyana, unexpectedly meeting Eugene Onegin (Nicholas Cannon), with whom she was immediately, intensely smitten. The pivotal second scene describes her in her bedroom that night pouring out her feelings as she penned a letter to him, full of the rapture at her first teenage infatuation. That was her mistake. She sang “Why did I obey my aching heart alone, and, lacking self-control, write him that letter!” She was mortified when, next day, he returned her letter, telling her he “was not made for wedded bliss”. As she wrote, I was drawn to the hauntingly beautiful clarinet playing of Anna Coleman in the RSC Instrument Ensemble, whose music added much richness throughout the performance.

Purple jacketed and mauve cravated Nicholas Cannon excelled as the bored, disinterested Onegin, visiting with friend, the poet Lensky. His decision, at Tatyana’s name day ball to tease Lensky by monopolising his fiancé, Tatyana’s flighty sister Olga, infuriated the jealous poet. That was his mistake. Olga, sung with promise by Bronwyn Douglass, enjoyed the attention, and was happy for a bit of harmless flirtation. That was her mistake.

Lensky, convincingly played by Branko Lovrinov, whose voice was rich, whose diction clear, unable to tolerate his fiancés flirtation, publically renounced his friendship with Onegin and, overcome with jealousy and anger, challenged him to a duel the next morning. That was his mistake.

© Co-Opera
© Co-Opera

Accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s bleak music, and as he waited on a stage stripped of all colour for Onegin to arrive for the duel, Lensky mused on the unexpected way events had evolved. This was Lorinov at his best. His voice captured the ability of the Russian language in portraying a sense of fatalism, foreboding and futility. The accompanying Instrumental Ensemble was equally forlorn. Joined by Cannon, tenor and baritone sang with rich emotion, blending beautifully, expressing the futility of “silently and cold-bloodedly preparing to destroy each other”, asking the question “should we not part friends?” Although they wanted to, neither could make the first move. That was their mistake. Onegin fired his pistol, the stage exploded in a burst of red light, and Lensky lay dead. A very dramatic end to Act II.

The final Act was very different. Cannon’s Onegin and Lambert’s Tatyana were changed people. Lambert, momentarily robotic at Onegin’s unexpected reappearance, projected the mature and dignified voice of a confident woman sure of herself as the wife of Prince Gremin. Her singing displayed a voice full of emotion, carrying regret that Onegin had contacted her, distress that he had woken dormant passions and. finally, deep contempt as she command him to leave her forever.

I enjoyed most of all the rich bass of Eugene Raggio, an expressive Prince Gremin who, in this relatively minor role, exuded confidence with every word he sang. Filipyevna, Tatyana’s babushka-like nurse was played magnificently by Meran Bow, singing well and acting superbly. There was comedy and caring, attentiveness and intrusiveness, as she oversaw all that pertained to her charge. Her antics endeared her to the audience. Norbert Hohl, a foppish, powdered-faced Monsieur Triquet entertained as he prancingly delivered his French poem composed for Tatyana’s name day celebrations.

While Nicholas Cannon had successfully conveyed his boredom in the first part of the opera, I better enjoyed his more passionate singing in the latter scenes. He was remarkably expressive in his tender duet with Lensky before the duel, and quite perky and full of hope, excitement and expectation on rediscovering Tatyana, now wife of Prince Gremin. Used to getting his way he was stunned that she would rebuff him. His disbelief and puzzlement was palpable as he exclaimed “Disgraced! Condemned!” and pondered the pitiable fate he was destined to endure without her. The opera ended with the final indignity of glimpsing the satisfied face of Prince Gremin looking haughtily down upon him.