Vancouver Symphony Orchestra heads to the opera

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photoBeth Madsen Bradford
photoAnna Kazakova

If you go

What: Vancouver Symphony presents an all-Tchaikovsky concert with opera singers Nicholas Pallesen, Anna Kazakova, and Beth Madsen Bradford.

When: 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $35 for general admission, $30 for seniors and $10 for students.

Information: 360-735-7278 or visit http://vancouversymphony.org

Some people go through life thinking that the grass is greener on the other side and don't realize what they've always wanted is right in front of them — until it's too late.

That's what happens in "Eugene Onegin," an opera by Tchaikovsky that will be the main focus of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's season-opening concert.

The orchestra, now in its 35th season, will perform several highlights from the opera, as well as two other works by Tchaikovsky. All of the works will be led by Music Director Salvador Brotons, who will begin his 23rd year at the helm of the orchestra.

For "Eugene Onegin," Brotons and the orchestra will share the stage with three opera singers. They will present, in concert format, the letter scene in which Tatyana, a romantic girl, pours out her love for a dashing young man, Onegin. They will also do the final scene of the opera, in which Onegin tells Tatyana of his love for her.

A wrench was thrown into the concert when baritone Lucas Meacham withdrew. This caused orchestra manager Igor Shakhman to scramble in order to find a replacement. After a nationwide search, Shakhman found Nicholas Pallesen, who recently covered the role of Eugene Onegin for the Los Angeles Opera.

Pallesen, who is based in Washington, D.C., received a Richard Tucker Career Grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation in 2012, won an award from the George London Foundation earlier this year, and was a 2009 Grand Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition. He was featured in the DVD "Audition" about the Met competition.

"I will sing the aria that Onegin sings at the end of the first act when he rejects Tatyana," Pallesen said. "He tells her that he loves her like a brother, nothing more than that. Inside, he does feel something for her, but he's conflicted about it. I also sing the great 10-minute long duet with Tatyana at the end of the opera. He finally comes to his senses. It's almost like a mirror image of what happened earlier in the opera, when he rejected her. Now the tables are turned. He pours out his soul to her, but she tells him that she is married and she rejects him. He kind of gets his own medicine at the end. It's a fascinating role and the music is sublime."

Portland-based soprano Anna Kazakova studied at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory. She has performed at the Bolshoi Theater, Mariinsky Theater, the Moscow Stanislavsky Academic Musical Theater, and Budapest National Opera. She has sung the role of Tatyana many times.

"The music from the entire opera is about deep feelings and deep culture," Kazakova said. "The opera shows two different classes of society. One is a middle class and the other is a high-upper class. This is expressed in a passionate, poetic way. Tatyana sings very passionately from her whole being when she writes the love letter to Onegin, who she just met. It's not all that different from what a pop singer like Taylor Swift does."

"Eugene Onegin" was created by Tchaikovsky for professionally trained students, Kazakova said.

"It's not terribly difficult with extra-challenging high notes," added Kazakova. "The main emphasis is on how to capture the attention of the audience and bring all your art and passion into your performance."

Mezzo-soprano Beth Madsen Bradford will perform the role of Filipyevna, a servant who attends to Tatyana. Bradford graduated from Linfield College and lives in Portland. She most recently sang in Juneau, Alaska.

"I've done this role before," Bradford said. "I sang it with Vashon Opera in Seattle. The music is so evocative. In the letter scene, Tatyana grills Filipyevna about her experience regarding love, because she doesn't have anyone else to go to. Tatyana has read novels, but that's all. Filipyevna is from the serf class. She tells how a marriage broker came to her house. They dragged her away to be married and she cried and cried. There was nothing romantic about it."

The other works on the concert program have direct ties to political events.

In the summer of 1876, Serbia was at war with the Ottoman Empire. Since Russia was an ally of Serbia, the Russian Musical Society decided to support Serbia by commissioning an orchestral piece from Tchaikovsky for a concert in aid of the Red Cross Society and for the benefit of Serbian veterans. So Tchaikovsky created "March Slave." The title refers to people who speak a Slavic language, and the composer called it the "Serbo-Russian March."

In "March Slave" you can hear the sound of the Serbs being oppressed by the Turks, the rallying of Russians to help them, and a solemn statement from "God Save the Tsar." It has a few passages that are pretty much the same as those in the "1812 Overture," so they are often paired on concert programs.

About four years later, in 1880, Tchaikovsky wrote the "1812 Overture." It commemorates Russia's defense of its lands against the Napoleonic invasion of 1812. The music conveys the distress of the Russian people and the ominous force of Napoleon's troops, which are represented by fragments of "La Marseillaise." As the cannon shots from the Russians begin to repel the invaders and while the city of Moscow burns, you will again hear "God Save the Tsar."

To duplicate the effect of cannons, the Vancouver Symphony will rely on some good old-fashioned audience participation. Before the piece begins, ushers will hand out paper bags that have been donated by Burgerville. Brotons will cue the audience to pop the bags right when the cannons go off. It should be a blast.