Russian intrigue: ‘Eugene Onegin’ | TheUnion.com

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Russian intrigue: ‘Eugene Onegin’

A scene from "Eugene Onegin" at The Del Oro Theatre Saturday.

KNOW & GO:

WHO: The Del Oro Theatre

WHAT: The Metropolitan Opera, LIVE in HD

WHEN: Saturday, April 22 at 9:55 a.m.

WHERE: The Del Oro Theatre, 165 Mill St., Grass Valley

TICKETS: $22 Adults, $20 Seniors, $18 Children 12 and under & students with ID; Available online at http://www.sierratheaters.com or at the Del Oro Box Office

INFO: http://www.sierratheaters.com, 530-477-1100

This Saturday at Grass Valley's Del Oro Theatre, Sierra Cinemas presents Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" as the latest offering of The Met Opera Live in HD.

Most are familiar with Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) as the composer of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake ballets; some may also know the symphonies and the first piano concerto. But his operas? Although in recent decades The Queen of Spades and Eugene Onegin have gained a firm foothold in the repertoire, they still remain an esoteric treat for many opera goers. I would suggest that these two operas – and especially Onegin – reach the summit of Tchaikovsky's creative genius.

The source for the libretto, compiled by the composer and his brother Modest, is the mock-epic novel in verse of the same title by Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837). Pushkin is as familiar to Russians as Shakespeare is to us in the West. Therein lies a huge cultural divide, as The Bard of Avon was, among other things, an ambitious merchant class entrepreneur while Pushkin embodied the tragic Romanticism of his writing. Self-torment and alienation abound in Pushkin's works. In a sad case of life imitating art, Pushkin was killed in a duel at age 37.

The music is recognizable Tchaikovsky, with grandiosity, melancholy, and Russian melodic material. The character of Onegin is the archetypal anti-hero, moody, arrogant, self-important, destructive of himself and others: it's Pushkin's self-portrait.. Tatiana, who confesses her love for this unhappy man, outgrows the sentimental adolescence in which we first meet her to become a figure of strength and moral certainty. Hers is an interesting journey to witness, here performed by the incomparable Russian soprano Anna Netrebko.

The original verse novel is set in 1820; the Met's production places the action in the later 19th century, around the time of the opera's premiere in 1891. Worth seeing, if for no other reason than the presence of Netrebko, one of history's great stars.

John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at Amazon.com.