Powerful Singers Enliven Tchaikovsky

The Lowell House Opera has conquered Lowell’s dining hall this year with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The opera is a favorite worldwide for its elegant story of unrequited love—taken from Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel of the same name—and for Tchaikovsky’s sweeping, passionate score.

Eugene Onegin is presented on eight different days with two starring casts alternating shows. The cast consists primarily of current students, recent graduates and several music students and enthusiasts from surrounding areas. The orchestra is a mix of undergraduates, graduates and community members conducted by Lowell House tutor Channing Yu ’93.

As an entirely voluntary student production, Eugene Onegin is an incredible feat of staging, organization and musicianship. The opera is three hours long and consists of seven different scenes, making staging even more challenging. But the crew still manages to create a cohesive, well-paced and entertaining production.

The tale of tragic unrequited love centers on Tatyana, portrayed by Jane Lynch ’03 last Friday. She is a daughter of the petty nobility stranded on a country estate and mired in reading romantic novels. When Onegin comes to visit with Vladimir Lensky, the beau of her sister Olga, Tatyana falls instantly in love with him. Thus begins the tragedy.

Lynch is a spectacular Tatyana, both as a vocalist and as an actress. She exudes the childlike innocence of romantic dreams for the first two acts, and maintains an air of elusive grace throughout. Her eyes alternate between deep thought and the anguish of love and shame.


When Lynch begins to sing, her voice is ethereal yet clear and projects deep into the hall. Her arias are the opera’s highlights. Their notes ring like chimes in all ranges, yet the sound is full and well-rounded, even in top notes. The orchestra tends to get carried away on occasion, playing the swelling crescendos with slightly too much crescendo for the acoustic environment and for the singers who must resound above it. Lynch’s voice, however, always resounds fully above the orchestra.

An incredible leading lady always needs a comparable leading man.

But Miles Rind’s Onegin falls far short. In contrast to Lynch, his sound is completely horizontal, making his changes of register barely noticeable. Moreover, his acting skills are unsuited to his role; he switches between only two facial expressions: a blank look of nonchalance and a mean scowl. The role is more complex than Rind represents and the lead vocal part requires considerably more tonal and dynamic variation.

As Lensky, John A. McMunn ’04 is, like Lynch, an exemplar of the talent that Harvard’s undergraduate community has to offer. His musical and expressive range is impressive and his execution is spirited. His pure love for Olga is discernible in the vibrato of his ample voice. Erin Baker’s Olga, on the other hand, had a far too guttural and nasal voice, and her Russian was incessantly garbled.

Eugene Onegin’s chorus is comparatively small, consisting of merely twelve men and women. In the first part of the story, they are the peasants of the countryside; later, they are moneyed aristocracy attending a St. Petersburg ball. The women’s part of the chorus often sounds fragmented and is occasionally out of sync, while the men are mostly strong and in unison.

The chorus’ purpose in this show is not only to sing, but to dance as well, particularly during the show’s two balls. Perhaps because of the small stage, the choreography and execution of the dances is unpolished at times. There is a prolonged dance set in a St. Petersburg ballroom where the chorus takes on a robotic pose with angled arms and mechanical steps. In the context of the rest of the opera, this choreography makes little sense and looks slightly ridiculous.

The opera is presented in the original Russian with supertitles. Unfortunately, as the opera progresses, it becomes difficult to follow both the stage action and the translation simultaneously. Those who do not understand Russian and who are also unfamiliar with the opera’s storyline might be frustrated by the lagging titles above the stage.

As an introduction to Tchaikovsky’s adaptation of Pushkin’s literature, the Lowell House Opera’s Eugene Onegin is a worthy production. There are a few starring operatic leads which stand out, while others are mediocre amateurs. On the whole, the show is a laudable effort well worth the experience.

—Eugene Onegin plays tonight and tomorrow night in the Lowell House dining hall.

—Crimson Arts music critic Julie S. Greenberg can be reached at