The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Director Candace Evans returns to her native city to direct the Madison Opera’s first-ever production of Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin” this weekend.

November 1, 2011
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OPERA ALERT: I couldn’t make it to the University Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Boheme” (below, in a photo by Brent Nicastro). But the last performance is tonight at 7:30 in Music Hall. (Tickets are $22; $18 for seniors; $10 for UW students. Call 262-2201.) Here are three very positive reviews of the production by critics I respect. First, I offer  John W. Barker’s  review for Isthmus:; then second, Greg Hettmansberger’s review for Madison Magazine’s “Classically Speaking” blog:; finally, a review by Lindsay Christians in 77 Square:

By Jacob Stockinger

The big event in the coming week is the Madison Opera’s first-ever production of Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin”  in Overture Hall on Friday, Nov. 4, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2:30 p.m. at the Overture Center for the Arts.

It will be performed in Russian with English surtitles.

Tickets are $18-$116 with student and group discounts available. Call or visit the Overture Center box office at 201 State St., (608) 258-4141 or go to

Tchaikovsky’s opera, based on the lyric poem by Russian literary icon Alexander Pushkin, tells of innocent passion and profound regret. A youthful country girl, Tatiana, falls in love with the mysterious and worldly Eugene Onegin, only to be rejected. The consequences of that rash dismissal of love unfold in Tchaikovsky’s drama, set in the countryside and the glittering ballrooms of 19th century Imperial Russia.

“Eugene Onegin” marks the first time Madison Opera has presented an opera by Tchaikovsky, the gifted melodist and composer of “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” as well as many popular symphonies and concertos for piano and violin.

Madison native Candace Evans, who staged Bizet’s “Carmen” (below) two seasons ago, returns to direct the production, with maestro John DeMain conducting the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. For more information about Evans, visit her website at:

“As Madison Opera enters its 51st year, it’s only fitting that we start with a new challenge – our first-ever Russian language opera,” says the Madison Opera’s new General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “It is a truly musically thrilling and intense night in the theater.”

Two major cast members are veterans of the Madison Opera.

Critically acclaimed soprano Maria Kanyova (below), who was last seen with Madison Opera as Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” stars as the impassioned young Tatiana.

Powerful baritone Hyung Yun (below), who appeared with Madison Opera as Escamillo in “Carmen” and Valentin in Faust, returns as the jaded Eugene Onegin.

Tenor Scott Ramsay (below), a Green Bay native, makes his Madison Opera main stage debut as Lenski.

All three artists gave audiences a taste of the emotional intensity of Eugene Onegin at Opera in the Park 2011. They are joined in “Eugene Onegin” by mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck (below), previously seen and heard onstage as Flora in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Here is more about the cast: 

The sets and costumes (below) are on loan from the production by the Pittsburgh Opera.

A variety of events surround the opening production of Madison Opera’s “Season of Dreamers.” The Opera Up Close series will provide a fascinating preview of “Eugene Onegin” on Friday, and Pre-Opera talks will be hosted by Kathryn Smith one hour prior to each performance.

Audiences will also be treated to a glimpse into Russian culture with a pre-show lobby performance by the UW Madison Russian Folk Orchestra and a cultural artifacts exhibit hosted by the Russian Educational Association.

Director Candace Evans (below) recently took time out from her hectic rehearsal schedule to talk to The Ear about the opera and production:

Can you briefly introduce yourself personally and professionally to readers and audience members?

I was born in Madison, and am delighted to be “home”‘ again. I was asked to direct “Carmen” here two years ago and had a truly wonderful experience. My background includes an MFA in Classical theater and direction, with a lifetime of work in dance as well as training as an opera singer. My interests have always been in these three areas, with my life as an opera director and choreographer offering the happy combination of all three.

Does something special mark your style or approach to stage directing?

I believe my background in movement allows me an ease in the staging of action and the visual flow around the stage. I love working with large groups of chorus members, as well as weaving the story and emotional truth of each aria with the principals. Our bodies “tell the truth” faster than language, so physical reaction is a very important aspect of good stage storytelling. Should the super-titles be eliminated, the line and dynamic of the music and the physical aspect of the story should allow an audience full understanding.

What would you like the audience to see or notice in your production of “Eugene Onegin”? 

Of course, the glorious music is the most imperative. Beyond that, my job is to “open the story” to the audience. Each person will take away their own view of the experience, depending on their personal point in life. It’s not for me to dictate, merely to allow them to “enter this world.”

How well does Tchaikovsky (below) match the story or plot with the music? Does he possess a good sense of theater? What is special, challenging or unusual about staging him versus other famous opera composers?

This opera was written from a most personal point of view, as well as for the honor that Tchaikovsky wanted to bring to the legendary work of Pushkin. This literary piece is a national treasure in Russia, and the passion and pride with which it was translated to music is tremendously evident. It is a joyful thing to be able to work within these pages of music.

The biggest challenge is the combination of very intimate psychological moments, within the very grand scope of the overall piece. It’s an unusually extreme example of internal reflection, against public situation.

In quality and accessibility, how do you think this opera by Tchaikovsky compares to, say, his ballets or symphonies and concertos?

The main difference, of course, is that this work is vocal. The muscularity of the Russian language is like the addition of another instrument in the orchestra. It is fascinating, compelling and extremely moving, even to non-speakers.

You have worked with John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill) and the Madison Opera before with “Carmen.” Do you have any impressions of Madison and its audiences?

I adore working at the Madison Opera. The level of professionalism, attention to detail and respect for artists is unsurpassed. I’ve worked many, many places, and though it would seem my bias for Madison is personal due to being born here. It is far more than that.

Additionally, there is a unique energy to the people of this city. The combination of education, appreciation for the arts and a feeling of accessibility for all is very special.

I adore the fact that the Overture Center is a “permeable” facility; the doors are open and the public flows through on a daily basis. I see people using WiFi in the lobby, children attending theater events, art gallery tours, public meetings and “just folks” stepping into the lobby to warm up from these early crisp days. It is a tribute to non-elitism, and I am proud to work there.

What else would you like to add?

Opera is a joyful combination of glorious music, grand storytelling and artistic visuals though the set, lighting and costumes, and it shouldn’t be a challenge to anyone, regardless of past experience or language skills. Like attending a Rugby game in which you don’t know the rules, attend your first opera with the joy of trying something new! For those who already “believe,” I welcome you to the first Russian opera in Madison Opera history.

Posted in Classical music

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