Opera Santa Barbara’s Eugene Onegin brought a large and enthusiastic crowd to the Lobero Theatre on Friday, March 1, for a splendid evening featuring some of Tchaikovsky’s greatest music and a host of excellent performances. As Tatiana, the country girl who becomes a princess, Karin Wolverton wove a tapestry of gorgeous sounds, from childish naivete to a dawning sense of self-worth after passing through the crucible of Onegin’s rejection. She gave a particularly convincing account of Tatiana’s nightlong writing of a love letter. This substantial solo requires audiences to accept what amounts to a hybrid form, the epistolary aria, and Wolverton made every moment of it into mesmerizing bliss. As Onegin, Lee Poulis moved easily from the court and the dance floor to the dueling ground, where his “duel-et” with best-friend-become-rival Lenski (Elliott Deasy) was easily one of the highlights of the night.
Special credit for the success of this Russian treasure should go to maestro Valéry Ryvkin and his orchestra. Eugene Onegin is packed with thrilling instrumental colors and reflections that add enormously to the subtlety and nuance of what’s happening onstage, and this production made every one of those details count. The stage direction by Jonathan Fox was spot-on; the choreography, especially of such sequences as the peasant dance, was delightful; and Steven C. Kemp’s simple yet effective set design came across as clear as day, especially when the giant circular moon over Tatiana’s bedroom changed color and became the rising sun. Congratulations to the large and talented cast for doing an exceptional job of recreating musical Russia in Santa Barbara.