Just how passionate can love be? Russian opera depicts love as a crucial and deadly matter when it comes to affairs of the heart.
The Sacramento Opera’s “A Russian Affair” showed audience members two dramatic tales of intrigue, seduction, unrequited love and murder Friday night. All of these characteristics are the elements of the classic novels “Eugene Onegin” and “The Queen Of Spades,” written by Russian author and poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin. Actor Andrei Cordrescu made his debut performance narrating as Pushkin. The narrations by Pushkin connect the scenes and duets from the two operas.
Sacramento Opera Music Director and Conductor Timm Rolek is responsible for the operas’ conceptual framework, as well as the adaptation of Pushkin’s texts.
“We wanted to create a way to crystallize the two points of view,” Rolek said. “We wanted to combine two big operas into an adaptation of the author’s work.”
The first story, “Eugene Onegin,” is a cautionary tale about love given, rejected and admitted too late.
Emily Pulley stars as lead character Tatyana, a woman immensely captivated by the handsome, worldly and emotionally reserved bachelor Eugene Onegin. Actor Malcolm MacKenzie leads as Onegin, a man who discards Tatyana’s affection and eventually realizes that he does indeed return her love and wishes her to be his wife. Unfortunately, he is too late in his epiphany and Tatyana has married someone else.
“The Queen Of Spades” is a story about greed, status and obsession. Richard Crawley is in the lead role of Herman, a man who is consumed by gambling. He has fallen in love with a beautiful young noblewoman named Liza (Pulley). Herman hears of a secret way to ensure winning at gambling, and he all needs are three cards to be successful at the gaming house. Herman decides that at all costs he must learn the secret. He believes that this will be a means to increase his chances of courting Liza
This opera is filled with twists and turns. It has a tragic ending for all characters involved.
Sweeping orchestral compositions by Tchaikovsky accompany each vignette or aria. The intensity of the music sets the overall tone for both operas.
“I think Onegin was very intriguing…it’s a good solid story,” said audience member Ernest Taylor. “The music is exquisite, and there’s lots of talent on stage and in the orchestra. It’s one of those stories that you can place anyone in.”
Many audience members enjoyed “Eugene Onegin” and had various opinions about the characterization of Onegin.
“We thought ‘Eugene Onegin’ was very interesting,” said attendee Paul Feitser “The characters in Onegin are very passionate about their love…it’s a little dramatic.”
“I came out to the performance for class credit,” said California State University, Sacramento, student Sulamita Bondaruk
Bondaruk, who is a Russian American, also enjoyed the opera. “I saw it in the Sac Bee, and I was excited to attend,” she added.
When asked whether Onegin received his just rewards, audience member Maria Hernandez had a different reaction to the opera’s ending.
“Onegin gets exactly what he deserved,” Hernandez said. “His character is a selfish, self-centered dog, and he deserved to be alone.”
Other audience members traveled from out of state just to be in attendance for this magnificent and uniquely crafted opera.
“The Orchestra was great, excellent and marvelous,” said Bill Rust who came from Rio Grand with his wife, Carol.
“We came from Minneapolis just to hear the Opera and to be a part of our son’s life—the orchestra conductor,” said proud parent Gary Rolek, with his wife Viv by his side.
Mayor Kevin Johnson also attended the event’s opening night and thanked audience members for supporting the performing arts. He also called on attendees to support his arts initiative, “For Arts Sake.”
“There were so many death scenes in ‘Queen of Spades,’” said Sacramento resident Joseph Termeer who attended the event with his wife, Juliana.
“It was more dramatic that the first,” Juliana Termeer said. The couple received free opera tickets and were elated to spend an evening at the opera.
“We’ll come back for sure!” added Joseph Termeer.