Heartbeat Opera spins ‘Eugene Onegin’ and introduces ‘The Extinctionist’

Edwin Joseph, Shannon Delijani, Lloyd Reshard Jr., and Emily Margevich in "Eugene Onegin."
Edwin Joseph, Shannon Delijani, Lloyd Reshard Jr., and Emily Margevich in “Eugene Onegin.”
Russ Rowland

Heartbeat Opera’s Spring Festival features a version of “Eugene Onegin” as you’ve never seen it before as well as a brand-new opera, ‘The Extinctionist.”


HB The Extinctionist [Philip Stoddard, Katherine Henly.Russ Rowland
Adapted by director Dustin Wills, the music of “Onegin” is newly arranged by Dan Schlosberg. Jacob Ashworth is the musical director for this productions and also plays violin. At times interpolating cast with musicians and vice-versa, this is Onegin through a glass, queerly.

Newly released letters show how Tchaikovsky felt about having to keep his queerness under wraps. Acutely felt, this “Onegin” shows the depth of suppression and where it can lead via the characters of “Onegin,” Tatyana, and Lensky. What do we leave behind when we make the choices we feel we have to make, and what is the sacrifice of one’s authentic self truly worth? This Onegin is an experience in four dimensions, including the elastic nature of time and hindsight.

Dustin Wills’ clever scenic design brings the production literally close to home. Front row audiences will feel as much a part of the production as the cast. Showing the seams of the scenery and adding flourishes with props and improbably wonderful costume changes and positions, we get up in the middle and around to the end with Emily Margevich’s Tatyana resplendent even while recumbent, Roy Hage’s Lensky well and truly tortured, and Edwin Joseph’s “Onegin” feeling the frozen touch of reality and roads not taken. Sishel Claverie’s Olga is classic older-sister tomboy and costumer Haydee Zelideth knocks it out of the park with costumes that are evocative and fun as well as dramatic when needed. Reza Behjat’s lighting guides the eye and teases out details for the observant. Pure delight all around. This production combines classical technique with the joy of folk music and celebration, and the angst of electronica. Worthy and brilliant, this is a piquant contrast to “The Extinctionist.” Equally good, very different on the palate.

‘The Extinctionist’

Katherine Henly in "The Extinctionist."
Katherine Henly in “The Extinctionist.”Russ Rowland

Congratulations Heartbeat Opera! “The Extinctionist” is a brand-new opera that captures the spirit of what Heartbeat Opera is about. This is no surprise since Hearbeat’s musical director, Daniel Schlosberg, is the composer. Amanda Quaid wrote the libretto based on her play, and the questions posed and the decisions made seem oddly reflective of the post-Roe v. Wade world where we now live.

Shadi Ghaderi directs this stark vision of a very near future. Kate Noll’s spare set is very modern with little color, making the space ideal for Reza Behjat’s lights to guide the eye and make statements that are deepened by Camilla Tassi’s projections. A dream-like puppetry sequence with Afsaneh Aayani is haunting with the implications it makes.

The cast is stellar, with Katherine Henly as The Woman, Philip Stoddard as Man, Claire Leyden as Friend, and Eliam Ramos as Doctor. At the opening The Woman is greeting her Friend whom we discover is nascently enceinte. While celebrating with her Friend, The Woman feels a pang — among all of the experiences they have had together, this was one even more meaningfully shared. The Woman and her Man are having difficulty conceiving.

Ms. Henly’s tones are clear and full of everything she is feeling. Ms. Leyden’s Friend is aware of The Woman’s discomfiture but in her glow as the being within her becomes more, she is irrepressible in her joy. Haydee Zelideth’s costumes clothe the Friend first in jewel-toned peacock, then blooming, literally and figuratively, as the fetus grows in spring green. Ms. Leyden radiates Friend’s joy. 

Mr. Stoddard as Man seems very focused on progeny, and when the big revelation happens toward the end of the opera, the missed cues and communications continue these lovers on their lonely paths. His voice is nuanced and each word means so much. Mr. Ramos Doctor is very spit-spot proficient and fully toned, yet ultimately The Woman must navigate the sere landscape of her future alone. Echoing the results of the climate change surrounding her, even as she questions whether it is right to bring a child into the world as it is, when the diagnosis arrives it comes with a flurry of questions of its own. These questions will linger long after the beauty of the performance is done.

Get your tickets at heartbeatopera.org