There was something very Russian—indeed, Chekhovian—about the mix of joy and tears, as the Academy of Vocal Arts performed Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
This was a return to live performance in their home auditorium, the Helen Corning Warden Theatre, for the first time in two years.
Tears first. Of course, it starts with our helpless awareness of the horrors of Russia’s war on Ukraine. But there was pain closer to home, as this production was dedicated to the memory of Ghena Meirson, Philadelphia’s resident Russian Opera guru, who died last year.
Ghena’s presence on the faculty of AVA and Curtis was responsible for making the Slavic repertoire a staple here, and for guiding dozens of young singers through it. Indeed, in his final illness, he helped to coach via Zoom the casts of this Onegin. (I should also credit Dr. Julia Zavadsky, AVA’s Russian Diction Coach.)
Ghena’s loss is immeasurable, though indeed his legacy lives on in the singers he helped to shape. Undoubtedly, he would have played for this piano-accompanied Onegin, bringing his characteristic idiomatic and poetic flair. Instead, that Herculean job fell AVA stalwart José Meléndez, who was roundly rewarded with cheers from both the audience and the singers.
And now for the joy—more than I could have imagined. It started with the sheer pleasure of being back at AVA with an audience. But it continued into the physical production, one of the finest I’ve seen here. Often, I feel that the visual work is a weak link at AVA, but not this time. Directed by Richard Troxell (yes, the noted tenor who is also an AVA alum), Onegin had a welcome fluidity, elegance, and sense of drama….
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