Eugene Onegin

ArtsWatch Weekly: Conduit’s last dance, Russian lost love, the color of race, chamber tales

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

For more than 20 years Conduit was a vital link – in many ways, the vital link – in Portland’s chain of contemporary dance organizations. A home base for some of the city’s most creative dancemakers, it was also the place that visiting choreographers and dancers made their temporary work home when they were in town. Major work and vital experiments were created here by a host of talented people. Mary Oslund, Tere Mathern, Linda K. Johnson, Gregg Bielemeier, V. Keith Goodman, Jim McGinn, Katherine Longstreth: the list goes on and on, creating a tapestry of the tale of a very large and significant chapter in the history of the city’s dance.

It’s all history now, or will be as of July 23, when Conduit hangs up its hat for good, at least in its current form. The party’s over – but not before an actual party, A Wake for Conduit, fills the Ford Building for a final celebration this Wednesday, July 13. Bring your stories, and put on your dancing shoes. Jamuna Chiarini has the story for ArtsWatch readers.

There Mathern's "Gather: a dance about convergence," performed in 2012 in Conduit's original home in the Pythian Building. Photo: Gordon Wilson

There Mathern’s “Gather: a dance about convergence,” performed in 2012 in Conduit’s original home in the Pythian Building. Photo: Gordon Wilson

 


 

A TALE OF RUSSIAN LOVE LOST. Bruce Browne reviews Portland Opera’s new production of Eugene Onegin, which continues in the relatively cozy Newmark Theatre through July 26. Tchaikovsky’s opera, based on Alexander Pushkin’s extraordinarily popular Russian verse novel, is re-set in this production to the late years of the Soviet Union and the early years of the post-Soviet era, a switch that works for Browne: “The reason this production works so well is that the actors/singers embraced the change.” He particularly praises Jennifer Forni as Tatiana, the country miss who’s spurned by the cold title character: “Forni’s voice has the power and brilliance of a roman candle, and yet is never pushed, always in control. She has the best messa di voce (getting softer and louder on one note) I’ve heard in a long time. And she convincingly brought to life the facets of her teenage angst, brought about attempting to deal with Onegin.”

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At Portland Opera, a tale of Russian love lost

The Portland Opera's "Eugene Onegin" successfully time travels without losing its sense of tragedy

By BRUCE BROWNE

The star of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera version of Eugene Onegin is a young Russian gentleman who makes his way through the world without apparent care for anything or anybody beyond his erudite nose. Not his best friend Lensky, and not even the lovely Tatiana. As played by Alexander Elliot in the production by the Portland Opera, he is almost pathologically cold.

Fortunately, the warmth is supplied by Jennifer Forni as Tatiana, whose performance signaled to me that, again, the Portland Opera has put exactly the right artists under the lights.

Forni’s voice has the power and brilliance of a roman candle, and yet is never pushed, always in control. She has the best messa di voce (getting softer and louder on one note) I’ve heard in a long time. And she convincingly brought to life the facets of her teenage angst, brought about attempting to deal with Onegin.

Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) records her love letter to Eugene on her boom box/Photo by Cory Weaver.

Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) records her love letter to Eugene on her boom box/Photo by Cory Weaver.

But then all the singers were well cast. Lead male, baritone Elliot as the eponymous Eugene Onegin, is a chameleon. Last month we heard him in “Sweeney Todd” as Anthony Hope, a part that’s much more a tenor caste. But last night, he was thoroughly a baritone, cutting through the Newmark Hall with the trenchant power of a Husqvarna chain saw. And yet he possesses a velvety timbre when necessary.

Aaron Short as Lensky, Onegin’s poet friend, and Abigail Dock, Tatiana’s sister, Olga, rounded out the more youthful roles. Allison Swensen-Mitchell was Madame Larina, Tatiana and Olga’s mother; Andrea Compton was the beloved Nanny, Filipievna; and Konstantin Kvach was Prince Gremin. This was a sterling cast.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Tempest and an operatic pot shot

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

WELL, SHOOT. The whole thing explodes into a duel, of course, but before that there’s a tangled romance, and a cad’s carelessness, and a whole lot of glorious singing, and, well, why not a wintry tale for a midsummer opera? Portland Opera moves into the cozier confines of the Newmark Theatre beginning Friday night for its new production of Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera based on Pushkin’s verse novel, and things are looking promising – if not for Onegin himself, who lives to deeply regret shooting his best friend, Lensky, then for the audience. ArtsWatch’s Christa Morletti McIntyre interviewed stage director Kevin Newbury, fresh off his acclaimed world-premiere production of Fellow Travelers at Cincinnati Opera, and discovered his plan to create an Onegin that will resonate with his fellow Gen Xers. Newbury has reset the late 19th century tale in the 1980s, around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and crumbling of the Berlin Wall. The “political and nuclear-threatening war of grudges” between East and West, McIntyre writes, helped “to unpack the meanings and individual lives impacted by this new kind of war, which was as visually stunning as it was oppressive and terrorizing.” All that, of course, plus some gorgeous music.

Ilya Repin, "Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's Duel," 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

Ilya Repin, “Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s Duel,” 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

 


 

JULY’S FIRST THURSDAY IS THIS WEEK, and there is considerable to look forward to the monthly gallery walk. (Some galleries open shows on Last Friday or First Friday or according to their own schedules). A few we have our eye on: J.D. Perkin’s Island, an exhibit of the Portland sculptor’s fascinating-looking contemporary busts, coupled with some selected works by the late, great Robert Colescott, at Laura Russo Gallery; Sarah Siestreem’s Winter Work paintings, with Cynthia Mosser’s Beach Body, at Augen; the all-star anniversary lineup at PDX Contemporary in A Stand of Pine in a Tilled Field: 21 Years at PDX; the stylized figures and settings of R. Keaney Rathbun’s Memory and Stone, at Waterstone; and Blackfish’s annual Recent Graduates Exhibition of work from Oregon’s college and university art departments. Also, the Portland Biennial, an ambitious overview of work by 34 contemporary artists, opens Saturday at Disjecta, and should be well worth a long look. And on the north coast in Astoria, K.B. Dixon’s 32 Faces, his black-and-white environmental portraits of well-known Oregon artists in their elements, opens Saturday. ArtsWatch wrote about the exhibit when it opened at Michael Parsons Fine Art in Portland in February.

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Preview: ‘Onegin’ with a Gen X twist

Stage director Kevin Newbury talks about his new "Eugene Onegin," set amid the crumbling of the Soviet era, for Portland Opera

Last August opera director Kevin Newbury flew from his home in New York to meet with the Portland Opera creative team to brainstorm for Eugene Onegin, the Tchaikovsky dramatic opera that will open Friday in the Newmark Theatre. As part of the life of a contemporary opera director, Newbury has spent his career jetting around the country working with houses in St. Louis, the famed Santa Fe Opera, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Boston, to name just a few, including Portland Opera for its well-received West Coast premiere of Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei in 2012. Newbury is well-composed, youthful, tack-sharp, passionate about his work. He speaks in a gentle voice with a well-thought-out command of opera, his place in it, and where he’d like to see the oft-embattled art form go.

Ilya Repin, "Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's Duel," 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

Ilya Repin, “Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s Duel,” 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

In 2010 he staged a traditional production of Onegin in St. Louis, delicately counterbalancing its romantic pastoralism and the slightly intimidating cosmopolitan worlds that the two main characters, Tatiana and Eugene, navigate. Critics and audiences raved about it, calling it a well-directed traditional performance that celebrated the soprano and musical drama of Tchaikovsky.

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