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February 6, 2010

Snowbound blast from the past: Lensky's aria from Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin'

Are we having fun yet?

As if the blizzard weren't bad enough, our home computer died over night, leaving Robert and I feeling so last century. Our kindly nextdoor neighbor took pity on us and just leant us a laptop so I can try blogging a bit and Robert can catch up his real estate biz (thanks, Peter!).

I had planned on doing some profound analysis of Baltimore's musical future on the blog this weekend, but that will have to wait; I'm too worn out from shoveling a pathway and brushing off piles of snow on fragile shrubs and trees. So I'm just going for the easy way out and try posting a bit of snow-related music that also happens to provide a remarkable demonstration of refined, eloquent singing.

This is the great tenor aria from Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" when Lensky, having rashly challenged his former best friend Onegin to a duel, contemplates

his fate before the fatal contest begins. This winter scene seems doubly fitting right now, as I look out at a ton of snow and who knows how many challenges to come. (I've had a soft spot for this scene ever since the first time I saw "Onegin" on the stage, a Bolshoi production that, in its unashamedly literal way, offered such a realistic-looking depiction of a snowfall that you would have sworn the real stuff was descending from the sky.)

Somehow, hearing a poor guy sing about his storm-tossed life on a bleak field seems terribly fitting as Baltimore lies buried by the wintry elements. But I'm sure you won't find yourself depressed by this scene, so much as moved by the quality of the performance from the old days by Sergei Lemeshev. He may be on the indulgent side interpretively, as some contend, but, man, what golden tones, what melting phrases. And melting is what I could use right about now:

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:34 PM | | Comments (2)


That aria is a perfect choice, but two other snow bound opera arias come to mind. The first is perfect for the snow and the economic doom: The simpleton singing of the gloom of Russia in the falling snow of the final scene of Boris Godunov. Another one, in honor of the upcoming St. Valentine's Day, is the third act of La Boheme. Snow and opera: A perfect mix.

Great choices.Thanks for commenting. The other day, in advance of the storm, I tried to find that Act 3 opening of Boheme, without luck. I didn't remember the Boris scene, which is so terribly haunting. But the way I feel on Day 2 of the White Death, I might not be able to handle the Simpleton's sad, sad song. Could put me right over the edge! TIM

Given the extra time "Snowmagedon Part II" has provided, interested listeners might also want to investigate the great interpretations of this aria by Fritz Wunderlich and Ivan Koslovsky. And those with an extensive vinyl collection should definitely pull out the album of a George London fundraiser where Nicolai Gedda (with Rostropovich aiding and abetting at the piano) replaces his earlier melting lyricism with a white-hot passion.

Those less close to the edge than Tim might find a special resonance in listening to Schubert's "Die Winterreise" (The Winter-Jorney) - recommended interpretations are Hans Hotter/Gerald Moore and Peter Pears/Benjamin Britten.

I'd love to find a good English translation of the Schubert to perform - in live performance I think it requires the immediate communication provided by hearing it in one's own language. Anyone have a suggestion?

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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