Maryland Opera Studio's 'Eugene Onegin' provided new local benchmark for college productions
I didn't get to catch up with Maryland Opera Studio's production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin until the last performance Saturday night at the Clarice Smith Center, but it was definitely a case of better-late-than-never for me.
Onegin, of course, is a story about young people in and out of love (and luck), so a student performance can offer a certain built-in verisimilitude factor. Such was the case here. But the opera still requires considerable talents from all involved to yield a satisfying performance. This venture, easily the finest college-level opera production I've encountered yet in this area, met the challenge admirably.
OK, so the orchestra was a weak link, prone to smushy entrances and iffy intonation. But those musicians really played, putting a lot of fire into Tchaikovsky's wonderful score as they responded to the exceptionally sensitive conducting of James Ross. Just the way Ross shaped the Letter Scene was worth the trip, with subtle, telling rhythmic nuance. Of course, it helped that he had in Jennifer Forni a remarkable soprano to sing that scene.
Forni, as the hopelessly lovesick Tatyana, sounded like a singer already well on her way to enjoying a successful career. Her voice revealed warmth and evenness throughout the registers, never turning harsh when pushed, and her phrasing was consistently eloquent. It was exciting to hear such a young artist so technically accomplished and so attentive to the subtler points of interpretive expression. Her acting skills were just a little less incisive than her musicality, but Forni nonetheless conveyed a good deal of Tatyana's naive, endearing character.
As the cruelly indifferent, ultimately vulnerable Onegin, Aaron Agulay ...
Logan Rucker offered beautifully shaded vocalism as the romantic and rash Lenski. The tenor's voice was light, yet penetrating, and his sense of how to shape a phrase proved quite affecting. Like Forni, he seemed already well prepared for the fully professional realm.
A rounder, meatier tone would have enriched Stephanie Sadownik's turn as Olga, but she proved an engaging presence. Although Stephen Brody did not have the tonal richness for Prince Gremin's aria, he showed distinct promise. Alexandra Christoforakis created a vivid portrayal of the maid Filipyvevna. And, in a bit of luxury casting, veteran mezzo Delores Ziegler, a Maryland Opera Studio staffer, offered an authoritative Larina. The chorus produced a mostly solid sound. Peter Burroughs sang sturdily as Triquet, but, unfortunately, was called on to treat the character in the terribly campy way so often, and so unnecessarily, adapted in stagings of Onegin.
That tired Triquet bit was about only element in Leon Major's direction that didn't measure up in his otherwise telling production, which made maximum use of Misha Kachman's minimalist set. The scene change between the ball and the duel in Act 2 was achieved in particularly imaginative fashion.
All in all, a classy validation of Maryland Opera Studio.
PHOTO BY CORY WEAVER, COURTESY OF CLARICE SMITH CENTER (Aaron Agulay, as Onegin; Jennifer Forni as Tatyana)