EUGENE ONEGIN By Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, directed by Enrico De Feo (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To April 30. $30-$275. 416-363-8231. Rating: NNNN
Count up all the references to dreaming in Eugene Onegin and you’ll get a better understanding of the Canadian Opera Company’s bold staging of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.
Created for L’Opéra National du Rhin in 2003 and directed then by Marco Arturo Marelli, who also designed the sets, this production – directed by Enrico De Feo – sets up the opera as a long flashback by the title character, or perhaps as a waking nightmare he constantly revisits.
This skewed-perspective universe toys with your emotions. The right part of the stage curves up so steeply you fear the singers may stumble. Letters – one of the opera’s key motifs – can float down from the sky or suddenly bury a character. And a little rectangle of space near the back of the stage lets you glimpse the bright blues or steel greys of the outdoors, subtly lit by designer Marelli to evoke both physical and psychological weather.
The spare set powerfully conveys the doomed spirit of missed opportunities in Tchaikovsky’s work, which adapts the Pushkin poem about the unrequited love between impressionable young country girl Tatyana (Giselle Allen) and the bored and cynical Onegin (Brett Polegato).
De Feo knows how to move characters on and off the stage to create tension or intimacy, and he even uses the wings to great effect. There’s a lot going on, however; this is the first production I’ve seen at the COC that seems made for those used to running several applications on a computer simultaneously. And some bits take questionable liberties with the story, although they can be explained by the flashback/dream conceit.
What’s not questionable, however, is the high quality of the singers. Polegato looks and sounds every inch the doomed romantic hero, and his transformation from world-weary snob to impassioned lover is believable and moving. The sweet-toned Allen is equally convincing, especially in Tatyana’s famous letter scene.
Allyson McHardy, Daniil Shtoda, Barbara Dever and Alexander Kisselev bring great vocal and emotional heft to their smaller roles.
I’m not sure how Derek Bate will conduct, but try to catch Richard Armstrong at the podium. (He’s there until April 18.) Under his baton, the music throbs with passion, bringing out every dramatic thrust of the familiar score.