Ciekiewicz "triumphant" in Calgary Opera's Onegin Lara Ciekiewicz as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, Calgary Opera, 2018.

Ciekiewicz "triumphant" in Calgary Opera's Onegin

Oliver Munar

Leave it to the sweeping, lush music of Tchaikovsky to warm up an otherwise frigid winter night in Calgary.

For its second mainstream production of the 2017-18 season, Calgary Opera offers a stirring performance of Eugene Onegin, directed by Tom Diamond. Based on the novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, the story follows the life of Onegin, from his first meeting with the sky, awkward Tatyana, through the tragic death of his best friend, to his epiphany for his love of Tatyana - only for that love to go unfulfilled.

As the titular Onegin, baritone Phillip Addis offers a convincing, polished performance. Addis carries himself with poise and swagger that underscore his character’s coldness. But in the third act, Addis unleashes a full range of his acting and vocal ability when his character finally recognizes his love for Tatyana. His vibrant voice is pierced with desperation as he pleads with Tatyana, who refuses to act on her feelings for him.

Phillip Addis (Onegin) in Eugene Onegin, Calgary Opera, 2018.

Calgary Opera recruited three first-rate mezzo-sopranos for the roles of the family matriarch Larina, Nurse Filippyeva, and Olga, respectively. As Tatyana and Olga’s mother, Edmonton-based Elizabeth Turnbull is elegant and poised. Her voice is earthy and secure, and sets the early tone for this first-rate production. Meanwhile, Emiliya Boleva’s portrayal of Tatyana’s nurse is sweet, endearing, and at times comic. Boleva’s vibrant voice cuts through the orchestra with ease. The honesty in which she portrays Tatyana’s aging nurse, particularly in the letter scene, is a highlight of this production.

As Tatyana’s younger sister Olga, Lauren Segal offers a silky portrayal of a young woman in love. Segal’s charming interpretation is playful and flirtatious. Compared to the melancholic Tatyana, Segal’s Olga shines with youthful exuberance, her voice shimmering with simple vivacity. In addition, her onstage chemistry with Adam Luther as Vladimir Lensky is palpable; they clearly portray a young couple who have been in love for a long while.

Adam Luther (Lensky) and Phillip Addis (Onegin) in Eugene Onegin, Calgary Opera, 2018.

Tenor Adam Luther offers a swoon-worthy portrayal of the poet Vladimir Lensky. Luther’s lyric voice suits this role quite well; he is definitely a standout performer for this production. His hot-headed jealousy at an otherwise festive party sets the scene for a truly poignant and beautiful aria at the end of the second act, in which Lensky reflects on his life and his love for Olga ahead of a duel with Onegin. It is in this aria where Luther is in his element: a soaring, rich tenor that delights the crowd with a touch of sentimentality.

As Prince Germin in the final act, bass Valerian Ruminski turns in a standout performance. Ruminski’s vibrant voice filled the auditorium with a warmth and sensitivity that underscored his character’s love for Tatyana. On this night, Ruminski offered a truly endearing portrayal that elicited one of the warmest responses for the performance.

Lara Ciekiewicz (Tatyana) in Eugene Onegin, Calgary Opera, 2018.

The night, however, belonged to the triumphant performance of soprano Lara Ciekiewicz in the role of Tatyana. Ciekiewicz’s shimmering voice lights up every scene; she convincingly embodies her character’s emotional journey from a shy, awkward youth to a refined aristocrat. Ciekiewicz shows her dramatic mettle in the letter scene in which she explores various emotions about her growing love for Onegin; Ciekiewicz shows a broad spectrum of what you would expect from a lovesick girl. And in the final scene of the opera, Ciekiewicz’s command of Tatyana’s visceral emotions, and of Onegin’s unrelenting advances, are crowning achievements for her portrayal.

Lara Ciekiewicz (Tatyana) in Eugene Onegin, Calgary Opera, 2018.

Members of the Calgary Opera Chorus were expertly prepared by Chorusmaster Sandra Atkinson. In particular, the ladies’ choruses at the end of the first act are boisterous and full of life. The addition of dance numbers by members of the Suzirya Ukrainian Dance Theatre add a welcome authentic feel to the opera, which is set in 18th-century Russia. Members of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra kept it all together, led by Maestro Timothy Vernon. For an ensemble as polished as the CPO, one could simply sit back, close their eyes, and allow the lushness of Tchaikovsky’s writing to wash over them.

Kudos must also be extended to Scott Reid for a wonderful new set design for Onegin. Jointly produced by Calgary Opera and Vancouver Opera, and constructed with the assistance of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the set offers a beautiful backdrop to the onstage drama. The simple sets for the scenes in the first act complement the simplicity of living out in the country, while the lavish scenes for the two parties are a colourful spectacle.

Eugene Onegin, Calgary Opera, 2018.

In Onegin, Calgary Opera offers a strong cast singing the lush opera music of Tchaikovsky with a colourful new set. What better way to warm up cold, bitter February nights in Calgary.

Calgary Opera offers two more performances of this epic masterpiece, on February 7 and 9.

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