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Opera review: Tchaikovsky and Tatiana triumph at Town Hall Tenth

Opera review by NANCY MAXWELL
Note to self regarding reviewing Opera Company of Middlebury’s production of “Eugene Onegin”: Do NOT gush. Note to self: Forget note to self.
“Eugene Onegin,” which opened this past Friday night at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater to a sold out first night audience is absolutely delicious. Unbridled passion, unabashed drama, scorned lovers, fancy balls, gun fights, all this set amidst surging melodies and stunning harmonies — yes, it is pretty much a perfect opera. Tchaikovsky’s work, based on a Pushkin novel, infuses a Western musical sensibility with the distinct sound of traditional Russian music in telling the story of a young, bookish country girl who is suddenly and wildly besotted with the title character, Onegin. Onegin, a world weary bit of a cad, blithely rejects Tatiana, only to have the tables turned on him years later when he sees her again and is now, himself, besotted by the beautiful, wordily, wealthy (and married) woman she has become.
Darik Knutsen as Eugene Onegin is a girl’s worst nightmare. Tall, dark, handsome and disinterested, Mr. Knutsen uses his powerful baritone as a weapon in his casual rejection of Tatiana and is so convincing in his self absorption that his comeuppance at the end of the work is marvelously satisfying.
To play the role of Tatiana all you need to have is an amazing soprano voice, be very lovely to look at, have the capability of expressing a vast expanse of human emotion with depth and sincerity and, oh, yes, perform that 14 minute aria, some of it flat on your back. The marvelous Suzanne Kantorski-Merrill does all that with grace. She charms and thrills with her wonderful soprano voice and her elegant stage presence.
Throughout her abject youthful humiliation at her impulsive expression of love for Onegin, she maintains a dignity that gives credulity to her later strong sense of self. The night was hers!
As Lenski, the sweet lover of Olga, Bray Wilkins’ tenor marries so beautifully with the music that one feels you are being invited to a waltz every time he sings. His performance offers a multitude of delights including the marvelous duet with Mr. Knutsen prior to their ill-fated rendezvous at dawn.
Dawn Pierce’s Olga brings an easygoing sensuality to her role, which contrasts wonderfully with the more tormented passion of her sister, Tatiana. Lisa Chavez as the mother, Madame Larina, brings a lovely warmth and gravitas to the evening. Erik Kroncke, a returning artist to OCM is solid and very endearing as Tatiana’s adoring husband, and Brad Raymond amuses and charms with his lovely performance as the old Frenchman, Monsieur Triquet. A highlight among all these marvelous supporting performers is Jenni Bank as the nurse. With her rich, confident mezzo soprano she goes for laughs but still provides a soft place to fall for Tatiana.
The wonderful Emmanuel Plasson returns to conduct the artists who make up the orchestra and bring the gorgeous music to life. A full ensemble of singers and dancers support this 10th production of the OCM, bringing vibrancy to this Russian landscape. The sets by director Douglas Anderson and local architect Adam Ginsburg evoke that Russian landscape and include an Act II set reveal that is just wonderfully delightful. Debra Anderson’s costumes must cover the gamut from peasant to princess and do so perfectly, while always giving a clue to character.
Director Douglas Anderson masterfully brings together all the many moving parts in staging a demanding, beloved and very beautiful work. “ Eugene Onegin” will be at the Town Hall Theatre through June 8. And it is DELICIOUS!

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