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American Ballet Theatre: Onegin

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American Ballet Theatre


Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jaffe, Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 5, 2012

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Conductor: David LaMarche

Onegin (1967): Choreography by John Cranko, Staged by Reid Anderson and Jane Bourne, Based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Arranged and orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, Set and Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by James F. Ingalls, Performed by David Hallberg as Eugene Onegin, Joseph Gorak as Lensky, Onegin’s friend, Sarah Smith as Madame Larina, a widow, Her daughters: Hee Seo as Tatiana and Yuriko Kajiya as Olga, Kelley Boyd as Their nurse, Roddy Doble as Prince Gremin, a friend of the Larina family, and the Company as Relatives, country folk, and members of St. Petersburg nobility.

”Pushkin's great 19th-century verse-novel, Eugene Onegin, is interpreted with flawless storytelling skill by John Cranko. With a wealth of magical moments, this compelling tale features an unusual twist of double unrequited love - while the high-handed Onegin at first spurns the young, naive Tatiana, she blooms to become a sophisticated St. Petersburg aristocrat who, in turn, rejects his subsequent advances in a final crushing blow.” (ABT Web Notes).

In contrast to last week’s The Bright Stream, John Cranko’s Onegin, with a ravishing Tchaikovsky score, is supremely satisfying on every level and must be seen again and often. Onegin (David Hallberg), from St. Petersburg, arrives in the garden of Madame Larina’s (Sarah Smith) country house with his friend Lensky (Joseph Gorak), to cure his ennui. It’s soon to be Madame Larina’s daughter, Tatiana’s (Hee Seo) birthday celebration, and Tatiana and her friends are preparing party dresses. If they look into a mirror, each will see “her beloved”. This is the start of an old fashioned romantic poem, based on Pushkin’s 1825-1832 oeuvre. It’s a clean, clear, uncluttered plot, and one with poignancy, pathos, and power. Lensky is engaged to Tatiana’s country friend, Olga (Yuriko Kajiya), and Tatiana falls into immediate infatuation with Onegin on sight, in her garden. Tatiana’s nurse (Kelley Boyd) delivers an impassioned letter of confidential and youthful desire, from Tatiana to Onegin (transcribed in the ABT program, for all to understand her eloquence and sincerity).

At the birthday dance, a distant relation, Prince Gremin (Roddy Doble), arrives to pursue courtship with Tatiana, with Madame Larina’s blessing. But, Tatiana sees only Onegin, and Onegin sees only himself. To add spark to his evening, Onegin flirts with Olga, who joyfully matches his dangerous whim, enraging Lensky, and generating a scheduled duel to the death. Lensky is shot, and Onegin disappears for years to sooth his soul. When Onegin returns to St. Petersburg, he finds Tatiana at Prince Gremin’s ball, as Gremin’s regal wife, and Onegin now sees Tatiana in a refined, sophisticated world, causing him to feel confusion, remorse, and angst. Now the love letter is written by Onegin to Tatiana, who rips it in his presence and dismisses him with fervor; the psychology surrounding that decisive act can be analyzed and obsessed about ad infinitum.

John Cranko’s choreography is imaginative, sublime, and breathtaking. In an early scene, the Corps as country folk dash as couples, with the men lifting the women as they leap with legs stretched out scissors shaped. The partnered lifts of Tatiana and Onegin are agonizing and possessed, as compared to those of Olga and Onegin, which are fanciful and stylized. Mr. Hallberg is first regal, stately, illustratively bored and self-involved, and later haunted and frenetic, as he morphs from arrogant and rejecting to lonely and rejected. His solos are, as always, mesmerizing. Mr. Gorak, as well, was perfectly cast for the theatrical role of Lensky, the impulsive and morality-bound lover of Olga. The duel scene, in dark thick clouds, thanks to James F. Ingalls’ lighting, was spellbinding. Ms. Kajiya, as Olga, was playful in the flirtation scene with Onegin and devastated as the fiancée whose beloved is shot. However, Ms. Seo, as Tatiana, lacked dramatic dimension and depth. Her performance was technically timed, but, in totality, she exuded the same sense of detachment that drove Onegin from her at her birthday. In the final scene, she did not appear viscerally conflicted, but rather mercurial and fickle.

Santo Loquasto’s scenery and costumes are stunning and amongst his finest. Tall birches, a lavish ballroom, and expansive silk gowns were even more than the eye could absorb on first viewing. The Tchaikovsky score, arranged by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, fills the mind with melodious harmonies, thanks tonight to David LaMarche’s exceptional conducting and Ballet Theatre Orchestra’s enthusiasm. Kudos to John Cranko.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at