March 29, 2019
Ed Tapper READ TIME: 3 MIN.
In its regular season at the Stoneham Theatre, the Greater Boston Stage Company treats audiences to a highly diverse array of offerings, including a number of theatrical adaptations. For the holidays, the troupe presented a successful run of "It's a Wonderful Life," adapted from the iconic Frank Capra film. The company's current vehicle is "Onegin," fashioned after the famous Russian novel in verse by Pushkin, and the operatic masterwork on the same subject by Tchaikovsky.
Pushkin's work was completed in 1837, and came to be recognized as one of the most significant works of Russian literature. The story concerns a decadent aristocrat who spurns the love of an innocent, country maiden, only to find the tables turned as the story ends. Tchaikovsky seized upon the dramatic potential of the work, and in 1879, composed his opera "Eugene Onegin." Along with Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov," it remains the most popular Russian opera in the repertoire, and for good reason. The score is highly melodic and lushly orchestrated, with magnificent arias and ensembles, and imbued with elements from Russian folk song and dance.
In 2016, Pushkin's tale and Tchaikovsky's opera became the inspirations for a musical entitled "Onegin," written by Amiel Gtadstone and Veda Hille. Premiered in Canada, their collaboration received immediate critical praise. The work is modeled after Tchaikovsky in a structural sense only, and with the exception of a quotation from the opening of the opera's orchestral prelude inthe first ensemble, "A Love Song," there are no stylistic similarities. A rock-inspired musical in the manner of "Hamilton," "Onegin" is a well-crafted work, but somewhat uneven, musically and dramatically. The score is not consistently inspired, and moments like the rock-star numbers of Onegin and Triquet are derivative, and overtly incongruous with the mood and setting of the piece. The second act fares better, containing Lensky's song, "Olga, Will You Weep?," the only true lyrical moment in the score. This is followed by an elaborate ensemble in the duel scene between the friends Onegin and Lensky, which wonderfully sets the tone of this horrifying moment.
All of the cast members of GBSC's "Onegin" gave impassioned performances, and seemed thoroughly committed to the work. The energetic ensemble brought off all the intricate stage direction of Weylin Symes, which included frequent interaction with the audience, as well as the choreography of Ilyse Robbins. However, their voices were often inadequate in the declamatory passages set in a high range, which resulted in some forced, unpleasant singing and faulty intonation.
Mark Linehan was a convincing Onegin, cutting a handsome figure as the arrogant, young nobleman. His voice was quite pleasant, but too light for the role, and was inaudible at moments, while often sounding strained in the high register. Sarah Pothier was the physical embodiment of Tatyana, and gave a lovely interpretation of the role. She successfully transformed from the na�ve maiden of the first act, to the worldly woman of the second. Though her voice was attractive in the lower register, if took on a piercing, nasal quality in the high notes which proved abrasive. Rounder and mellower in tone, the voice of Josephine Moshiri Elwood was most enjoyable, as was her overall performance as Tatyana's sister Olga.
Mark Jennings Mahoney had the most focused and supple voice of the cast, but also sounded overtaxed in the upper range, especially when reaching for high, forte notes. He was convincing as the rash, Romantic poet, Lensky, and made a great visual foil to Linehan's Onegin. As Triquet, Christopher Chew sang and performed the role with authority. He enacted all the over-the-top direction for his big number, "The Queen of Tonight," and with the feverish manner in which his got his hips swiveling, it was not clear to which queen the song referred. Peter Adams made a wonderful Prince Gremin. His fine diction served him well in both his singing and acting of the role. In the small part of Mme. Larin, Kerry A. Dowling was an absolute delight, with her comic flair, and strong, focused voice.
Had the voices of the leads been stronger, the musical score of this "Onegin" would have made more of an impression. Although hardly a match for Tchaikovsky's opera, GBSC's "Onegin" still succeeded in entertaining, due to its spirited cast, and, of course, Pushkin's immortal story.
"Onegin" continues through March 31 at the Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA. For more information, visit the Greater Boston Stage Company website.