Since superstar Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky made his American operatic debut at Lyric Opera over a decade ago, we knew it was just a matter of time before we would be hearing his signature role, Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” here, but given how far in advance the opera world has to plan, it almost didn’t happen, since Hvorostovsky is singing the role less and less these days and even stripped back his original engagement to just the first few performances, and Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli, scheduled to make her Lyric debut as Tatyana, cancelled last July, citing that she was having trouble learning to sing in Russian. (Hey, next to canceling for having swallowed a fishbone, this excuse is starting to sound pretty reasonable). Well, the wait was well worth it, as Hvorostovsky’s portrayal of the aristocratic cad who breaks hearts and kills his best friend in a senseless duel, brings extraordinary depth to a character that is often rather one-dimensional. Of course, being a native Russian speaker who grew up living and breathing Pushkin and Tchaikovsky helps, as does his hunky handsomeness (he has even been cited as one of People Magazine’s fifty “Most Beautiful People”), to say nothing of a glorious voice that even beat out Bryn Terfel when the two competed for the Cardiff prize in 1989. Hvorostovsky alone could have carried this production, but Russian-American and Ryan Center alumna Dina Kuznetsova nearly stole the show on her own with her touching rendition of the “Letter” scene. No less impressive was tenor Frank Lopardo’s touching farewell to his youth and life before the duel and the glorious and well-balanced orchestral playing supplied by Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra for this colorful and almost concerto-like score that is far more layered than the average opera score. Note that Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien takes over the title role as of March 17. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. This production is now closed.