Performing Arts

Superb cast leads the way in Dallas Opera’s gripping ‘Eugene Onegin’

The Dallas Opera presents ‘Eugene Onegin’ at the Winspear Opera House.
The Dallas Opera presents ‘Eugene Onegin’ at the Winspear Opera House.

The Dallas Opera is turning to one of the great creators of fine melody and Russia’s most famous poet to open its 60th anniversary season.

Combine Tchaikovsky’s musical gift with Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin — a classic tale of love rejected — and you have the ingredients for a gripping operatic performance — especially if it’s as satisfactorily done as Sunday afternoon’s performance at the Winspear Opera House.

Eugene Onegin might well have been titled Tatyana, for the woman whom the title character foolishly rejects, much to his later regret. Both Pushkin and Tchaikovsky were clearly on Tatyana’s side, creating an appealing character while focusing much attention on her sorrows.

Dallas is fortunate to have Svetlana Aksenova as its Tatyana. She is Russian, a decided plus in a production sung in that language (with projected English supertitles, of course). But more important were the lyric beauty of her soprano voice and her skill in creating a believable sympathetic character. Tatyana’s “letter aria,” one of the longest in any opera, was beautifully done.

There are three other characters who get major attention in Tchaikovsky’s opera. One is Olga, Tatyana’s sister and the fiancée of Lensky, Onegin’s best friend. Dallas has a winning Olga in Dutch mezzo-soprano Kai Rüütel, whose vocal beauty and skill at characterization rival Aksenova’s.

Another major character is Lensky, who is eventually killed by Onegin in a duel. Tenor Stephen Costello made a major impression in the part. His role as Olga’s jealous love was convincing, and Lensky’s soliloquy as he awaits the duel was one of the high points of Sunday afternoon’s performance.

As an actor, Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko was flawless as the scoundrel Onegin, though he never quite equalled the vocal thrills produced by his three colleagues.

The smaller roles were generally well filled. Deserving special mention were bass Mikhail Kazakov as Gremin, alto Meredith Arwady as Filipievna and soprano Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet as Larina, Tatyana’s and Olga’s mother.

The choral singing, a major element in the opera, was strong, and conductor Emmanuel Villaume led an eloquent, well-played orchestral performance.

The sets by Alexander Lisiyansky are quasi-surrealistic. Most of the opera is set in a forest of birch trees, accented by a grand piano placed incongruously in a forest clearing, an out-of-doors bed for Tatyana, and a fallen chandelier in the final scene (representing, I suppose, Tatyana’s faded dreams).

One non-surrealistic element was an elegant ballroom, nicely lit by Laurent Castaingt — whose work was impressive elsewhere.

Eugene Onegin will continue Wednesday and Saturday . Let’s hope the Dallas Opera begins enforcing the no-latecomers-admitted rule. A couple of scenes on Sunday had opening measures spoiled by tardy audience members.

Eugene Onegin

  • 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday
  • Winspear Opera House, Dallas
  • $19-$269
  • 214-443-1000,