| Mariusz Kwiecien, as Eugene Onegin, and Ana Maria Martinez as Tatiana|
(Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Lyric Opera of Chicago)
So I blew off my responsibilities Wednesday afternoon and caught the matinee of "Eugene Onegin" at the Lyric, because seeing "Carmen" for the second time this season Tuesday night obviously didn't satisfying my opera jones for the week.
Well, actually, I was told that if I missed it, I would be sorry, and that was correct. Beautiful, strong voices, enigmatic sets. True, I'm more a Bizet man than a Tchaikovsky man—give me the big rolling punches of "Carmen" more than the dolorous loveliness of "Eugene Onegin." But it worked.
Yes, "Eugene Onegin" is not heavy on plot. He's a scoundrel. One sister is in love with him, writes a letter and is rebuffed, he woos the other sister at a dance, cheezing off her suitor, his best friend. There's a duel -- which means, with all the dueling in "Hamilton," if I can find one more dueling production this season, that would constitute a trend.
Trying to justify going, I told myself I wasn't just playing hooky, but working, building my base of knowledge regarding opera, always useful when covering Chicago's pressing urban problems. And I was pleased to recognize not one but two performers from previous work: Ana Maria Martinez, who was in "Don Giovani" (sort of carving out a singing-against-the-bad-boy niche for herself) and Iowa's pride, Katharine Goeldner, whom you might remember as stepping into the lead role the last time the Lyric did "Carmen," in 2010/2011 (or, more likely, not. But I sure remember it).
At intermission the group behind me started debating what language the singers of "Eugene Onegin" might be using. I let them go on but, when resolution didn't seem at hand, Finally, I broke my rule against butting into other people's conversations.
"It's Russian," I said, half turning in my seat.
"It doesn't sound like Russian," a man objected.
"I studied Russian in college," I said, evenly. "They're speaking Russian words. 'Ya lubloo ti da,' 'Yes, I love you.'"
They were still skeptical—this person claiming knowledge on the subject they obviously lacked any experience in whatsoever didn't count. Then one located some corroboration in the the program. "It says 'Russian,'' one lady read, and they were satisfied.
Well, you don't go to the opera to socialize with other patrons. It never works out well. Although, heading up the aisle at the same intermission, an 85-year-old woman grabbed my arm and suddenly I was escorting her on my arm. She was apologetic, and I said No, this is exactly how my mother gets around.
"Though you really should use a cane," I said, delivering the same lecture I give to my mom at every opportunity. She said she has a man who lives with her and helps her, but he also had to tend to her husband, and couldn't make the four-hour investment going to the opera entailed. I was about to quote Blanche DuBois on the kindness of strangers, but we were in the lobby and she broke free and was gone.
Not a lot of intellectual challenge going on with "Eugene Onegin." Although. Early on, when two rustically-dressed women are peeling potatoes against a vast orange background with five tall thin birch trees cutting up the stage, one snatch of song was translated as, "Routine brings comfort from distress. God's substitute for happiness."
Well, that's something to chew on. Damning, yes. I guess to be happy you have to seduce your pal's beloved then kill him in a duel. Frankly, I'd rather make coffee and walk the dog every single day. Without giving away the ending, I have to say I was one of the few patrons, if not the only patron in the history of music, to laugh out loud, big grin on my face, as poor Eugene was left, miserable and alone in the center of the empty stage, decrying his woe. I had that reaction because I was suddenly thinking of a particular die-hard bachelor friend and wishing he were sitting next to me so I could elbow him in the ribs and say, "Something to look forward to, eh?" And I have to say, as the lights came up, and I jumped to make the 5:25, I was pretty darn happy, even though I was catching the same train I always do.