kevin newbury

Preview: ‘Onegin’ with a Gen X twist

Stage director Kevin Newbury talks about his new "Eugene Onegin," set amid the crumbling of the Soviet era, for Portland Opera

Last August opera director Kevin Newbury flew from his home in New York to meet with the Portland Opera creative team to brainstorm for Eugene Onegin, the Tchaikovsky dramatic opera that will open Friday in the Newmark Theatre. As part of the life of a contemporary opera director, Newbury has spent his career jetting around the country working with houses in St. Louis, the famed Santa Fe Opera, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Boston, to name just a few, including Portland Opera for its well-received West Coast premiere of Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei in 2012. Newbury is well-composed, youthful, tack-sharp, passionate about his work. He speaks in a gentle voice with a well-thought-out command of opera, his place in it, and where he’d like to see the oft-embattled art form go.

Ilya Repin, "Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's Duel," 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

Ilya Repin, “Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s Duel,” 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

In 2010 he staged a traditional production of Onegin in St. Louis, delicately counterbalancing its romantic pastoralism and the slightly intimidating cosmopolitan worlds that the two main characters, Tatiana and Eugene, navigate. Critics and audiences raved about it, calling it a well-directed traditional performance that celebrated the soprano and musical drama of Tchaikovsky.

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Ryan MacPherson (l) and the rest of the ensemble cast of Postcard from Morocco. Photo: Cory Weaver.

Ryan MacPherson (l) and the rest of the ensemble cast of Postcard from Morocco. Photo: Cory Weaver.

by KATIE TAYLOR

For about the first 15 minutes, I was prepared to hate Postcard from Morocco. But thanks mostly to fresh, spontaneous sounding performances, and to composer Dominick Argento’s inability to tolerate writing obscure atonal music for very long, it won me over. You get the strong impression of a composer who wants his performers and his audience to enjoy themselves.

Still, this Postcard didn’t win me to the extent that I now understand why it is so frequently performed. Both musically and as a piece of theater, it feels very dated to its self-consciously cryptic early ‘70s origin — the beginning of the seemingly endless trend in the arts toward throwing something on the stage and expecting the audience to accept it as meaningful even if you haven’t the first idea what you meant by it. I’m willing to climb on board if I receive early evidence that I’m in good hands — that the librettist/playwright/painter, etc. is crazy like a fox rather than lazy like a fox. Librettist John Donahue falls into the lazy camp, Argento into the crazy — and that’s what makes this opera work to the extent that it does.

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