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Eugene Onegin in Harpa – An Operatic Achievement

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The Icelandic music scene is famously active, considering the size of the nation, and right now is an exceptionally good time to be a music lover in Iceland. Not only is the Iceland Airwaves music festival just around the corner, but the Icelandic Opera has recently premiered their most ambitious project so far, a staging of Tchaikovsky’s beloved opera Eugene Onegin in Harpa, Reykjavík’s shiny new concert hall.

The opera is based on Aleksandr Pushkin’s masterpiece Eugene Onegin, published in its complete edition in 1833, and tells the story of the lives and loves of some young Russians. This is the first time it’s performed in Iceland in the original Russian. It’s performed by some of Iceland’s leading singers besides international stars like baritone Andrey Zhilikhovsky (title role) and Rúni Brattaberg. The Icelandic singers in leading roles are Þóra Einarsdóttir (Tatjana), Elmar Gilbertsson (Lenskí), Nathalía Druzin Halldórsdóttir (Olga) and Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir (Larina).

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This is probably the Icelandic Opera’s most ambitious undertaking in the past few decades and luckily, for them and for us, it paid off! From start to finish, this magnificent piece of opera captivated the audience’s attention, dazzling them and breaking their heart in turn. Opera is perhaps one of the most complicated art forms as there are so many things that have to come together to make it work. The acting, the singing, the stage, and the story must all form one harmonious whole in order for the show to be considered a success and this time, it does!

The Opera is wonderfully cast and, in fact, it’s hard to choose a favourite among them. I will admit, though, that it was wonderful to see Elmar Gilbertsson and Þóra Einarsdóttir gracing the stage again, after their lovely turn starring in the Icelandic opera Ragnheiður a couple of years ago. The Icelandic singers managed the original Russian of the opera beautifully despite not speaking it, delivering the music as the composer intended. The choir also deserves a special mention as they form a strong backbone to the production.

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The stage at Harpa concert hall has sometimes been a fickle friend to opera performances. The Eldborg hall has great acoustics but it’s intended for concerts and conferences mainly, so sometimes theatrical productions can fall flat due to limited options for set design. Luckily, Eva Signý Berger, the set designer for Evgení Ónegín, along with lighting designer Björn Bergsteinn Guðmundsson, managed to break that curse and developed a stunning structure for the action by using a backdrop of large curtains and lighting to set the mood. The costumes are the last piece of the puzzle, completing a setting that perfectly complements the music and the story without overpowering them.

Eugene Onegin is a marvelous production; a world class show with admirable singers and performers and music- and stage directors, Benjamin Levy and Anthony Pilavachi respectively, should be happy with their efforts. It doesn’t hurt to be able to witness the spectacle in Harpa, Reykjavík’s gorgeous concert hall on the waterfront. Be sure to book tickets if you can, there won’t be many performances of this superb opera!

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