Eugene Onegin

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

10/10/2009 - 17/10/2009

Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®, Auckland

17/09/2009 - 26/09/2009

Production Details

Genesis Energy Season of Eugene Onegin

Honour, love, death and regret – these are the powerful themes of Tchaikovsky’s great opera, Eugene Onegin. Set in 19th-century Russia and based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel, Eugene Onegin has all the opulence and grandeur of the era and packs a dramatic and visual punch.

A dynamic national and international cast and creative team have been secured to deliver an unforgettable night at the opera. In her debut with The NBR New Zealand Opera, New Zealand soprano Anna Leese stars as Tatyana. Alongside her in the title role is the UK’s William Dazeley, one of the leading baritones of his generation. And from his base at Kirov’s Mariinsky Theatre, acclaimed Russian conductor Alexander Polianichko takes the podium.


AUCKLAND – Aotea Centre, THE EDGE®
Thu 17, Sat 19, Thu 24 and Sat 26 September (7:30pm), Tue 22 September (6:30pm)

WELLINGTON – St James Theatre
Sat 10, Thu 15 and Sat 17 October (7:30pm), Tue 13 October (6:00pm)

SINGLE TICKET PRICES   $49.50 to $187.50. Concessions available for senior citizens, students and group bookings. Service fees apply.

BOOKINGS: The NBR NZ Opera Box Office, Tel (09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343, or:
Wellington: Ticketek outlets nationwide, Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538) or Bookings also at The NBR NZ Opera Box Office: Tel (09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343.
Auckland: The Edge Box office, Tel (09) 357 3355 or visit

Group Bookings
Opera for Groups offers great incentives for social or corporate groups, including a 10% discount on each ticket for groups of 10 or more people plus one ticket free for every 10 purchased. Call The NBR New Zealand Opera for more information.

The Opening Night performances of Eugene Onegin in Auckland and Wellington are gala charity nights in support of the Genesis Oncology Trust. Tickets to these two performances are subject to a voluntary $10 donation with all proceeds going directly to the Trust.

Further information:

Designer:  Genevieve Blanchett
Lighting Designer:  Bernie Tan
Choreographer:  Timothy Gordon
Assistant Director:  Andrew McKenzie

Eugene Onegin:  William Dazeley
Tatyana:  Anna Leese
Lensky:  Roman Shulackoff
Olga:  Kristen Darragh
Madame Larina:  Patricia Wright
Prince Gremin:  Martin Snell
Filipyevna:  Rosemary Gunn (Auckland) | Wendy Doyle (Wellington)
Monsieur Triquet:  Andrew Glover
Zaretsky (Auckland):  Richard Green
Zaretsky (Wellington):  Roger Wilson
A Captain:  Daniel O'Connor*
Guillot:  Andrew Grenon*
*PwC Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist 

With members of the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus

Accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Vector Wellington Orchestra 

Delivers on promise of excellence

Review by John Button 15th Oct 2009

There was an air of excited anticipation before the curtain rose for the Wellington season of Tchaikovsky’s great opera – would it live up to the praise it had received in Auckland?

Simply put, this is, surely, the most polished, most evenly cast, production that New Zealand opera has yet given us.

It presents a traditional view of an opera that can be done no other way. Based on Pushkin’s verse novel, Eugene Onegin is a simple yet complex story, here lent additional realism by the skill of all concerned. The sets, by Genevieve Blanchett, are architectural rather than opulent, but they frame the realism of the story stunningly, as well as matching the costumes, courtesy Opera Australia, in almost organic fashion.

In short, even for someone not remotely interested in opera this would be rivetting, cohesive, drama, but, thanks to great singing of great music, it is elevated to an altogether higher level.

In Anna Leese Tatyana has an advocate to rival the great Russian singers. Her voice has the full range; from almost gauche fragility to steely power, beautifully produced and fully at the service of an acting ability that is rare in one so young. Her ‘Letter Song’ is astonishingly well formed, and deeply moving, and the extra maturity, and toughness, of the final scene is completely convincing – both musically and dramatically.

As Onegin William Dazeley is scarcely less impressive. Onegin is a difficult role, but Dazeley steers a delicate path between caddishness and human fragility in completely believable fashion, and his relationship with the excitable, and fated, Lensky is marvellously drawn. He has a fine voice as well, as does the Russian tenor Roman Shulackoff – as idiomatic a Lensky as could be imagined.

Kristen Darragh is a fine, flighty, Olga and Patricia Wright is ideal as Madame Larina. All the minor roles, including understudy Wendy Doyle are excellent, and in his brief appearance, with his great aria, Martin Snell is memorable as Prince Gremin.

The chorus is crucial to this opera and here they cover themselves with glory, somehow managing to sound amazingly Russian.

Presiding over this powerful realisation is conductor Alexander Polianichko. With complete authority he draws increasingly taut playing from the Wellington Orchestra, crowning a production that does the near impossible – rivals last year’s unforgettable Jenufa.
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Grasps the heart of a timeless tale

Review by John Smythe 14th Oct 2009

Part of me wants to say if only these privileged children of the landed gentry got their hands dirty with some real work they might not get themselves into such emotional messes. On the other hand the passions of young love can run deep in any social class and most people would recognise something of their own experience in this emotionally true production of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin (based on a ‘novel in verse’ by Alexander Pushkin).  

Director Patrick Nolan cleverly uses the overture and entr’actes to visually set up key elements, and – abetted by Bernie Tan’s lighting design – ensures the focus is very much on the emotional core. Conductor Alexander Polianichko creates a seamless connection between the Vector Wellington Orchestra in the pit and the performers on stage.

Soprano Anna Leese is totally believable as the book-worm Tatyana who, mesmerised by French romantic novels, falls deeply in love at first sight of baritone William Dazeley’s suave and urbane Eugene Onegin. They lead a strong cast of principles who fully inhabit their roles, using their excellent voices to clearly express their (mostly inner) thoughts and feelings.

The letter scene (Tatyana stays up all night writing a heart-wrenched love letter to Onegin) is beautifully sung, but Nolan keeps her seated behind a table, allowing her no physical expression of her volatile swirls of tormented excitement. Strange. Given the relatively sedate future that awaits her, it would seem a good idea to manifest some of the youthful agitation the music implies.

Onegin’s response, and Tatyana’s response to his response, are truthfully presented. With reasonable compassion he explains he is a committed bachelor because he fears that familiarity would soon kill any love that trapped him into marriage. And he lectures her on not letting lechers take advantage of her.

Kristen Darragh’s Olga (contralto), Tatyana’s sister, is delightfully simple in her happy love for Roman Shulackoff’s equally complacent Lensky (tenor). They have grown up together and find familiarity a plus – until, at Tatyana’s name day party, a bored Onegin decides to punish Lensky for saddling him with the provincial guests by flirting with Olga. Lensky, whose upset is as profound as his jealously is naïve, challenges Onegin to a duel.

Next morning, in a dawn scene of stillness pregnant with drama, the convention of singing their private thoughts while failing to communicate with each other allows us to see that pride is stopping both men from acting on their mutual awareness that a lifetime of friendship should hold more sway than these last few hours of foolish hostility. The rules of engagement are adhered to, Lensky is slain and Onegin goes abroad.

It is some years later when the tables are turned on Onegin. At a ball in St Petersburg he discovers a more mature Tatyana has married "hardened grey-haired warrior" Prince Gremin, whose love for her is touchingly rendered in Martin Snell’s rich bass.

Too late – and why now, we have to ask – Onegin is a smitten with her as she once was with him. She reveals she does still feel love for him (or for the idea of him, since she still doesn’t know him very well) but she now "belongs" to Gremin and "duty" dictates she may not listen to her heart. Oh the irony: to succumb to him would be to ignore his earlier lecture.

The supporting roles are equally strong in voice and performance. Patricia Wright (mezzo-soprano) brings a relaxed grace to the girls’ mother, Madame Larina, in charge of the family estate. Wendy Doyle (mezzo-soprano) -replacing Rosemary Gunn, who broke her wrist after the Auckland season – belies her youth to give an excellent account of the family nurse Filipyevna.

Andrew Glover’s beautifully relaxed and strong tenor voice and fine character skills make his Monsieur Triquet an amusing diversion in the first party scene. And Roger Wilson (bass) gives suitable gravity to Zartesky, Onegin’s ‘by-the-book’ second in the duel.

In the hands of choreographer Timothy Gordon, the characteristically strong Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus rises well to the challenges demanded as dancing peasants, party guests and ball guests, even partnering with chairs in the rather surreal introduction to the Act 3 ball scene and galloping trippingly through the cotillion.

Genevieve Blanchett’s set designs are impressive. The slim grey tree trunks in the estate’s pastoral setting give way to monolithic towers of dark-stained wood that close in oppressively as the drama intensifies.

All in all NBR New Zealand Opera’s Eugene Onegin is a strong and memorable production that grasps the heart of a timeless tale.
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Absorbing, thrilling, intimate, vast …

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 21st Sep 2009

A strong cast and a vigorous Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the flawless command of Russian conductor Alexander Polianichko, guarantee a memorable production of Tchaikovsky’ s Eugene Onegin.

Base on Pushkin’s ‘novel in verse’, director Patrick Nolan ensures his artists communicate Eugene Onegin’s enduring themes of love, honour, loyalty and death, with thorough sincerity and aplomb.

William Dazeley gives a well-rounded portrayal of Onegin, a social dandy whose self-awareness and humanity evolve too late to save him from being undone by love.

Roman Shulackoff and Kristen Darragh, as Lensky and Olga, are the perfect couple. Warm and engaging during Act 1, Schlackoff then communicates great depth of emotion during Lensky’s aria of regret in Act 2, leaving the audience noticeably moved. Martin Snell, who portrays Prince Gremin with full and charming resonance, is another audience favourite.

Anna Lees delivers an absorbing portrayal of Tatyana, the naive innocent who matures into a woman of grace and moral fibre. From thrilling melody in the famous ‘letter scene’ to aching vocal as she grapples with loyalty over love at the end of Act 3, Lees proves she has an exciting career ahead of her as a dramatic and capable principal.

Andrew Glover shines for a fabulous minute in Act 2 as Monsieur Triquet. His combination of pleasing vocal, engaging acting and comic vitality fills the venue and momentarily steals the show.

Patricia Wright as Madame Larine and Rosemary Gunn as Nurse Filipyevna are charming at the top of Act 1, as they delightfully sing of "the tranquillity of the country side", reminiscing on men and marriage, remarking on "habit as a substitute for happiness". These were simpler times.

Production Designer Genevieve Blanchett’s portrayal of 19th century Russian captures the majestic yet imposing nature of the Byzantium influence, as well as the vastness of Russia’s landscape. She creates a series of suitably large impressive tableaus to surround Eugene Onegin’s high emotions.

While lighting designer Bernie Tan regularly chose intimacy over artistic statement, I felt his best moments were achieved when he opted for the latter. The Chorus’ first appearance, gathering the harvest, is complimented with a warm wash of pastoral tones, texture and depth: simple and beautiful. Similarly, at the end of the letter scene, Tan’s slow breaking of the dawn as the awakening is mirrored by the APO, delivers memorable artistic synergy. Finally, Blanchett’s chilling snow for the ill-fated dual in Act 2 is suitably enhanced by Tan’s cold bleak shades. The lingering smell of sulphur wafting through the audience has an affect on the senses that is the perfect end to the Act.

While I am enthusiastic about this production, there are some unusual stage directions and choreography that I feel diminishes its overall impact.

The Chorus is sometimes so far upstage, or spaced in groups so far apart from each other, and without elevation, that they are in danger of not being heard as well as they could be. Another chorus is compromised when the dusting of dishes with forced military precision causes inevitable banging and clanging. Surely chores can take a break for a minute or two, so we can hear the full magic of the chorus.

While the choreography in Act 2 by Timothy Gordon was precisely executed, the heavily stylised "Dancing With Chairs" in Act 3 is perplexing and odd. Judging from the facial expressions of some Chorus members, they felt the same way.

Finally, some of the cast’s most powerful scenes feature the artists sitting down for their star moment. Tatyana’s celebrated "letter scene", the confrontation between Olga and Lensky in Act 2, and Onegin’s reflections on the emptiness of his life and his remorse over the death of Lensky in Act 3, are oddly, all sung from a chair.
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Lucy Vaganova September 28th, 2009

Couple of words regarding the stage design: the choice of birches for creating the atmosphere in the first scene. In Russia, birch is not an appropriate tree for the garden and could not be associated with nobility’s mansion. Birches had never been described by Pushkin, whose poetry is full of nature elements, by the way. For Russians the birch is strongly associated with the name of another great poet - Esenin, the representative of the beginning of 20th century’s “Villager’s” trend in poetry. Oaks and lime-trees would go better.

Lucy Vaganova September 28th, 2009

Some observation regarding the work of Shualckoff (Lensky), Russian tenor, popular these days in Moscow opera circles

Image of Lensky has become a perfect job of a director, his actions showed very distinctively why the duel had happened. Lensky was called by Pushkin ‘half-Russian’ and described in following words:

“Good looking, in the flower of age,
  A poet and a Kantian sage
  He’d brought back all the fruits of learning
  From German realms of mist and steam,
  Freedom’s enthusiastic dream,
  A spirit strange, a spirit burning,
  An eloquence of fevered strength,
  And raven curls of shoulder length” (tr.Ch.Johnston)

As we know from the novel, Lensky is a few years younger then Onegin, he is not even 19, almost a boy, probably of southern descent (he is having black curly hair), with hot blood running in his veins. (I would like to remind to my readers, that to some extent Lensky was a self-portrait of the writer  - Pushkin had endowed him with some of his own personal characteristics – qualities that a poet was desperately hiding, such as emotionality and explosiveness. Besides Pushkin was a quarter Ethiopian on his mother’s line.)

That is why we can assume that creating a proper image of Lensky is a hard task for a lyrical tenor – as the musical part is obviously written for this type of voice. Lyric tenors are used to portray rather sentimental or even timid characters, who need tender, light sound with great mezzo voce qualities. All of that we can find in Roman Shulackoff’s voice (though he did not manage to be perfectly in tune in some parts), but it could have been better to have some more fire and passion in his performance, as well as in his singing.

In my opinion, Lensky is still on the waiting list for his best interpretation on the opera stage.


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An Onegin not to be missed

Review by William Dart 21st Sep 2009

Spectacular sets and fine orchestra cap off splendid singing in Tchaikovsky opera

The eternal ironies of Pushkin’s tale were played out on spectacular yet sleek sets that betrayed Genevieve Blanchett’s architectural background, especially in a ballroom scene where characters waltzed between towering walls that might have reached to Heaven itself.

Yet the Australian director could catch our breath with the simplest touch such as a surge of dawn after Tatyana’s Letter Scene, boosted by a magnificent Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. [more]
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