Evgeny Onegin - a grass-roots opera
Samuli Takkula (Onegin), Visa Kohva (Gremin) and Varvara Merras-Häyrynen (Tatiana)
My last project was a fully staged version of Tchaikovsky's perhaps most popular opera, Evgeny Onegin, which we performed at my former alma mater Helsinki Conservatory (that's where I used to study cello). I was asked to do this already a year ago by my singer friend Varvara Merras-Häyrynen as her graduation project from Metropolia University. The only complication was that we had practically no money to produce it. We applied for grants from several foundations, but only one of them thought our production is worthy of their support. So we had two chances - either to call it quits, or plough on despite the grim financial realities.
A view from the 2nd violins. I had 1st violins and cellos in the middle, 2nds and violas on the sides.
Personnel wise we were lucky. We had singing students from both Sibelius Academy and Metropolia who really wanted to do this project, we had an excellent young stage director who studied his craft in Russia, Anselmi Hirvonen. And we had five rehearsal pianists eager to add this opera in their repertoire. But we had only a dozen of young orchestra players from Metropolia, so to fill the pit I had to first engage the Estonian Music and Theatre Academy to send some of their students to help us, and then go literally hat in hand to ask my musician friends and some very talented amateur musicians to join the pit orchestra just for the good company and the food and drinks that go together with it.
We could fit 32 players in the pit. Barely enough, but everyone did a great job.
Miraculously it all came together, and from the initial cacophony of our grass-roots orchestra it gradually started to sound like a proper opera orchestra - not a small feat considering that some of the players had never played a full symphonic concert in their lives, not to mention opera. The audience was also very impressed by how dynamically and energetically our pit orchestra performed. Nobody could be prouder than me about it!
Our first performance at the Kerava Hall
We performed the opera first in concert version in my home town Kerava, and then brought it to the Helsinki Conservatory stage. And audience wise it was a big success too. When the word got around that our production actually is good, more and more people came to check it out, and finally the second balcony of the conservatory hall had to be opened for the public (generally it is never used). The last performance ended with a standing ovation.
Our last show, to a packed hall.
For me this one was a personal victory, since I really wanted to add Onegin in my repertoire, and I was prepared to work long hours for this dream to come true. And while gathering the orchestra I came across not only great orchestra players, but a lot of positive and generous people who were willing to put their talents and time and effort on the table to make this opera production happen, just like myself. Yet another proof that not everything is rotten in the world. Ars longa, vita brevis!