Review of Eugene Onegin at Union Avenue Opera

    After a season in limbo followed by a season under the Big Top, Union Avenue Opera has returned to its home on Union Boulevard. This season’s first offering is an excellent production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

    The opera is based Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel of the same name. In the first act, the cynical, condescending title character rejects his youthful, unsophisticated neighbor, Tatyana, who has written him a passionate love letter.

    In Act II, Onegin grows bored at a ball he was persuaded to attend by his friend Lensky. Onegin decides to pay his friend back by dancing with Lensky’s fiancée, Tatyana’s sister, Olga. The flirtation enrages Lensky, who challenges Onegin to a duel in which Lensky is killed.

    Four years later, the final act turns the tables on Onegin and Tatyana. She has blossomed into a refined beauty who is married to a prince. Onegin cannot resist the mature Tatyana, and he is now the one facing rejection by someone he loves.

    The Union Avenue production has a wonderful cast. The principals are Robert Garner as Onegin, Zoya Gramagin as Tatyana, and William Davenport as Lensky. Their singing is gorgeous, and they build solid characterizations.

    Melody Wilson and Isaiah Musik-Ayala sing beautifully, too. She is a totally convincing Olga, and he is deeply moving in Prince Gremin’s aria about his wife.

    The fine supporting cast includes Debbie Stinson as Madame Larina, Victoria Carmichael as Filippyevna, R. Nathan Brown as peasant, Joel Rogier as a captain, Marc Schapman as Monsieur Triquet, Benjamin Worley as Zaretsky, and R. Nathan Brown as Guillot.

    Conductor Scott Schoonover and the orchestra encompasses the full emotional range of Tchaikovsky’s great score. Stage Director Octavio Cardenas gives the performers purposeful action that moves the drama forward. Jennifer Medina’s choreography enlivens the proceedings for peasants and princes alike.

    The final performances of Eugene Onegin begin at 8 p.m. on July 15 and 16 at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. All visitors to Union Avenue Opera must wear a mask while in the building.

    In Patrick Huber’s scenic and lighting designs, vertical elements evoke the birch trees of the first act’s country setting. A few additions make the same elements work in the later acts, too. Teresa Doggett displays unending imagination in her costume designs for the full range of characters in the large cast. Laura Skroska’s properties and Philip Touchette’s supertitles make notable contributions.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Dan Donovan
    From the left, William Davenport as Lensky and Robert Garner as Onegin in
    Eugene Onegin.