PORTLAND OPERA'S season finale rounds out this week with the end of one opera's run and the continuation of another. Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers, a 200-plus-year-old madcap comedy, picks up where Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1879 Eugene Onegin left off with its final Portland Opera performance Tuesday, July 26.
Both shows bring fresh perspective to classic material, starting with Onegin, which Portland Opera set in the 1980s (rad) and opened on a girl, Tatiana (soprano Jennifer Forni), on a classic merry-go-round in Soviet Russia, surrounded by propaganda posters, wearing overalls and Chucks, and listening to music on a Walkman. With her sister, Olga (mezzo-soprano Abigail Dock, in a killer Rizzo-type getup), Tatiana sings about the future. Knowing this is an opera and not an actual John Hughes flick (though it may look like one), we can safely assume that shit will eventually go down.
When it inevitably does, Tchaikovsky's music—conducted by Nicholas Fox—set against the '80s creates an interesting dichotomy highlighting the ways in which our stories don't ever really change—in this case, Tatiana's unrequited love for the titular character, who enters wearing what can only be described as John Cusack's jacket from Say Anything. Tatiana falls in love with Onegin (baritone Alexander Elliott) almost immediately, sending a love letter recorded on tape (so cool!). Onegin’s spurning of Tatiana is heartbreaking, because it’s so universally relatable. We’ve all been dumped by “nice guys.” And when he says that he “loves her with a brother’s love,” it’s impossible not to feel for her. Oof. It’s easier to accept the pace of a love story (usually much too fast to be believable) when you remember how long a week was in high school, and how deep those rejections hurt.
The follow-up opera that just opened last Friday, The Italian Girl in Algiers, is a vibrantly sensual interpretation of Rossini’s work, complete with new sets and costumes for this production. Director Christian Räth describes this show as universal in its exploration of “what happens to our personal stereotypes of character and gender when we get to know the people we encounter in unfamiliar surroundings.”
If the thought of ponying up for opera doesn't appeal, the Wednesday, July 27, performance of The Italian Girl will feature a free (!) outdoor simulcast showing on a screen outside the Newmark Theatre on SW Main between Broadway and Park. And if you can’t make weekday opera work for your schedule (and who among us can?), The Italian Girl in Algiers’ run continues through early August.