A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


A Surprising Eugene Onegin Lures Me For Carmen In Spades
Sunday, November 30, 2008

For some services rendered I had two extremely good tickets to the Vancouver Opera's opening day performance, last Tuesday, of Pyotr Iliych Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. But I took a chance and asked the powers that be for lesser (but three) tickets for yesterday Saturday with the idea of also taking Rebecca. I asked Rebecca. She said yes. But later it came down that she had been afraid to say no and that she really did not, nor does she like opera. My only comment on this is that you need yeast back at the bakery to make dough rise and without yeast, bread will always be flat.

The empty seat besides me was like a black hole. I could feel a pull. Rosemary and I from the vantage point of our lesser ticket seats enjoyed an opera that surprised me at many levels. The sets (Neil Patel) were sparse and beautiful especially the one in Act III where a bored Eugene Onegin (baritone Brett Polegato) comes back from a trip around the world where all he has found is more boredom. Servants remove his travel clothing and dress him up for a ball as the scenery around him transforms itself into a neo-Greco-Roman ballroom with huge columns bathed in a metalic blue cast. The dancers appear and then Tatyana (soprano Rhoslyn Jones) makes her triumphant entrance lit by a brilliant warm spotlight and in the arms of the tall soldier husband, Prince Gremin (bass Peter Volpe). I have not been so moved by colour and lighting (Rui Rita) in a very long time and particularly in theatre or opera.

The music was also a surprise, while being romantic, it was somehow also sparse, elegant and less over the top as in some of the Italian operas. The overture was quiet and short. The endings after each act (3) or scenes (7) were probably also quiet and lovely but last night's audience was quick to clap before the music ended so I was left with a frustrating curiosity. The music was a revelation which somehow matched the look of the sets and the crisp sound of chorus director Leslie Dala's chorus. Could it be an accident that if Tchaikovsky has given us so many good ballets that the dancing in this production (Allison Grant, choreographer) was both interesting and fun?

As always Rosemary and I enjoyed the Preacher of the Opera's sermon (even the folks at the unculturally recalcitrant Vancouver Sun know a good thing when they see one as they now sponsor the pre-opera talks) before the night's opera. Doug Tuck (The Preacher) enlightened us on how the composer was inspired by Russian composer Mikhail Glinka's opera Ivan Susanin and Pushkin's own Eugene Onegin . At the end of his talk he informed us of the Vancouver Opera's next production, which is Bizet's Carmen which opens January 24, 2009. I wondered if Tuck was up to something and if he was somehow winking at us. When we arrived home I looked into my The History of Opera by Richard Sommerset-Ward and hit paydirt!

But it was in Paris (1876) en route to Bayreuth that he had what he himself described as his most important experience. He attended a performance of Bizet's Carmen. It had been staged for the first time the previous year and had had a cool reception from the Parisian audience. What fascinated Tchaikovsky was not just the copious melody and the realistic story line: Carmen also had an underlying theme that corresponded to something deeply embedded in his own consciousness and, that was increasingly to dominate the remaining years of his life - the theme of fate.

In the "Card Trio"at the beginning of Act III, Carmen turns over the cards to see how they lie. "Spades - a grave!" she exclaims. "What matters it? If you are to die, try the cards a hundred times, they will fall the same - spades, a grave."

In Onegin's duel scene in Act II Scene 2, Oengin's former friend Vladimir Lensky (tenor Oleg Balashov) sings beautifully of his fate and his possible grave in very much the same words. While one of Tchaikovsky's lesser known operas, The Queen of Spades was based on a Puskin own story by the same name he cannot have written it without thinking back to Carmen's prophecy.


Previous Posts
Quartet For The End Of Time

The Drowsy Chaperone - A Good Thing In Bad Times

It's A Wonderful Life - A Vancouver Tradition

My Debt To Ballet BC - An Apologist's View

A French Connection & The Other Darwin

Imperato Stabile - Romano-Lax & Siam Di Tella

From Orality To Literacy To Visuality While Curlin...

Glengarry Glenn Ross As Thrilling As A Basque Bal...

Twilight - As Childhood Ends

San Miguel Allende, The Cessna Citation & I Fall ...

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2007

December 2007

January 2008

February 2008

March 2008

April 2008

May 2008

June 2008

July 2008

August 2008

September 2008

October 2008

November 2008

December 2008

January 2009

February 2009

March 2009

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

January 2010

February 2010

March 2010