Soprano Dina Kuznetsova and baritone Christopher Magiera (both shown here in an OTSL photo), making their OTSL debuts, are the ill-fated lovers, Tatiana Larina and Eugene Onegin, respectively, and they are simply terrific. Kuznetsova's Russian heritage may help her understand the Alexander Pushkin novel on which the opera is based. She shows drama in fine style, while Magiera is a seducer who collects women as if they were charms for a bracelet. Like most men, from Pushkin's hero of the1830s to Stieg Larsson's of the current decade, Onegin is convinced that once a woman falls for him, she never will forget him, no matter who she marries or how many years pass before they see each other again. In this particular case, however, Onegin is right.
Onegin and his pal, poet Vladimir Lensky (a thrilling Sean Panikkar), show up at a harvest party, complete with singing peasants, and he meets Tatiana and her sister, Olga (a charming Lindsey Ammann). Tatiana immediately sets her cap, and her ankle, for Onegin, but with a "Go away, kid, you bother me," attitude, he tells her to grow up.
Tragedy begins as Onegin then turns his sights on Olga, who is apparently scheduled to marry Lensky, but is happy to do a little flirting with Onegin. The men quarrel, of course, and schedule a duel, with Onegin turning into Aaron Burr and Lensky into Alexander Hamilton. Panikkar's soaring tenor was brilliant, and when the dark and handsome first walked onto the stage, my initial reaction was, "It's Rhett Butler." Not, but a glamorous figure.
Onegin leaves town for six years, while a few other things happen to those who have remained behind. He returns, however, only to be promptly hoisted on his own petard by Tatiana. This may be more plot than many people want, but opera is about singing and not about plot, and the singing in "Eugene Onegin" is glorious, with high marks also to Susan Shafer as the family nurse and Andrew Drost as a visiting French fop, a delight as he offers a comic song in French that does not get translated for the super-titles.
Allen Moyer's set is fascinating, constructed of wide wooden boards, with windows, that are stacked horizontally in sections that form a wall to separate the larger downstage area and provide what is almost a series of prosceniums, larger or smaller, that open to give us either an inside area and an outside one, or two rooms. It's especially effective in a scene that opens on a bare stage with ghostly figures moving on the other side of the wall, through misty windows. In a few seconds, the back wall opens, the singers move forward and the party swings from one room into the other. It's a wonderful visual image, complemented by Martin Pakledinaz' costumes and Christopher Akerlind's lights.
Kevin Newbury's steady direction avoided the pitfall of, perhaps, turning the aftermath of the duel into sentimental claptrap, and, as a matter of fact, kept the entire evening from sinking into a tear-stained swamp. David Agler conducted members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
"Eugene Onegin," presented by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis at the Loretto-Hilton Center, with performances June 2, 10, 19, 23, 25, 27