#60 Eugene Onegin

Ring the bells! We land in Santa Fe just in time for lunch. The airport is charmingly loaded with ornamental tiles, but after a no-frills flight all I can think about is food. Our Lyft driver chatterly describes some chili in town we’ve just got to try and before we even get to the hotel a long cartoon trail greets us with a curling finger and brings us to his recommendation, ‘The Shed.’

Our first chili bowl is weighted with chunks of pork and potato. Spicy! The good spice too, that brings on the sweats. We leave with my bald head looking like one of those old turtle wax commercials.

Full of jalapeño my head screams like a fire alarm with the joy of traveling. The weather is as pleasant as an airport poster. New flavors and new sights! The old mantra comes back, ‘explore, explore, explore.’

Through the distinctive Pueblo architecture we walk up and up and up the path into the sun to visit the ‘Cross of Franciscan Martyrs’ where half-burned multicolored candles pile around its base. Nearby a small group of tourists huddle in the only shadow no bigger than a black umbrella. I wipe my dripping forehead (now from the sun) taking in the great view of clouds and adobes. It’s a no rush easy friendly town I decide. Chaltin is farther below taking her time to read the history of Santa Fe on the bronze plaques, but I can’t help myself and rush past the cross and all its baggage toward the top of the hill.

Looking down I can smell early-century modernism between the leather and stucco.

I’ve heard a lot of jokes thru the years about Georgia O’keeffe’s paintings of flowers (ahem). I’d like to make a case that a flower is just a flower, but it’s hard to overlook the way she turns quivering petals into unmistakeable double entendres. We’re excited to visit her museum and see these iconic flowers in person. Maybe the Covid masks we still have to wear will be enough to cover our blushing cheeks.

Inside O’keeffe’s story blossoms into a complete oeuvre beyond the flowers. The small museum is popular so order tickets ahead of time (thanks for the tip Vin). There are skulls, asian sail boats, Machu Pichu, clouds seen from airplanes, and an adorable pointillistic horse. I especially admire the striking independence of Georgia that shines through in accompanying photographs.

I bring my eye as close to Okeeffe’s canvases as possible, always to the chagrin of the guards. I clasp my fingers behind my back, lean in, and try to deconstruct the secrets of how she paints. She uses slow, softly applied strokes, so velvety I want to touch them. Her process is so attentive they look like they were painted this morning. The process is a striking counterpoint to the morte metaphor of her skull and bones I’ll think about during the opera. We exit and search out the more contemporary galleries.

On canyon road hail the size of bb’s meet the sidewalks. Rataplan, rataplan, rataplan. We watch them bounce and roll over the dirt sheltered under the awning of an art gallery where Judy Chicago is featured.

The storms clouds linger long enough that we need to take a Lyft back to the hotel. After a nap the sky clears and we’re off to the opera.

The heart emojis fly fast during these romantic trips with Chaltin. She survived last nights battle of vampires and looks lovely patterned with small flowers and a thin black shaw for the outdoor performance. She’s a blur of Lilys weaving through the gift shop.

The music also gets heart emojis.

The music is what we’re here for and it is so comforting to once again hear players get into key just before the music begins. Discordance coming together. This is Tchaikovsky and the overture is full of warm romanticism. We hold hands like always.

The story is based on a Pushkin novel.

This production of Tchaikovsky’s opera has two ballet sequences that melt Russia’s snows and evoke the sun bleached skulls of Santa Fe. Animal skulls worn by the performers remind me of the paintings at the O’keeffe museum. The ballerinas are a delight and give a wink and nod to the times by throwing in a few moves from the trendy tiktok dances. It’s a laugh.

Despite a little road noise from down the hill and the chatty woman beside us, the violins of Tchaikovsky lull me in, and then them striking French horns and oboes do me in completely. Fortunately chatty Kathy doesn’t return for the second act and the later the evening becomes the quieter the road also becomes.

The title character Onegin is a spoiled man-boy, yet one I can’t help but recognize. I squeeze Chaltin’s hand.

The duel was inevitable as the North Star foretold by so many popular posters for this opera. Still I was surprised it came so early. This production, and I imagine others, attempt to force a second climax later, to close the final act with the suicide of Onegin, but I think this does a real disservice to Pushkin’s story and Tchaikovsky’s music. The open wound of the real ending is so much more profound and long-lasting – to endure living beyond our bad choices.

Santa Fe is awesome and we’re leaving too many art and hiking stones unturned. The Santa Fe Opera is a pilgrimage I recommend to everyone – a cool city full of quality art opera.

Our next destination is Minneapolis where we will see Claes Oldenburg’s famous sculpture of the big spoon and cherry. I can’t help but think it is a double entendre that Georgia O’keefe would appreciate.

So what’s Eugene Onegin all about? The title character is a ‘superflous man,’ a Russian archetype of someone affluent, traveled, cynical, and manipulative… At a party in the country young Tatyana falls into a deep crush for him and writes him a letter. He turns her down with eyes for her sister and best friends girlfriend Olga. Onegin and his friend Lensky duel over her. Lensky dies (in real life the original author Pushkin dies in a similar fashion). Onegin disappears into the world. Time from the beginning of the opera moves fast. When he returns he is much older and Tatyana is now married, wealthy, and powerful. Onegin once again looks to upset another relationship. She says she still loves him but this time it is her who turns him down. The role reversal ends the opera with a devastating irony where time moving forward leaves Onegin a tragic cautionary tale.

Notes on the production:

Eugene Onegin……………………… Lucas Meachum
Tatyana……………………………………. Sara Jakubiak
Lensky……………………………………… Dovlet Nurgeldiyev
Olaga……………………………………….. Avery Amereau
Prince Gremin………………………. James Creswell

*Etienne Dupuis and Nicole Car were scheduled to play Onegin, but because of the pandemic were refused Visas from France (partly why I picked this date to visit Santa Fe was to hear Dupuis ). Lucas and Sara did fine, looking back better than fine, but my expectations were set high.

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