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Learning Russian was a hurdle for tenor

DANIEL BUCKLEY Citizen Music Writer

Bluesmen of old would have been pleased with the down-home way Richard Troxell got ready to sing the role of Lenski in Arizona Opera Company’s upcoming production of Tchaikovsky’s ”Eugene Onegin.”

”I took it to my Russian coach and then spent tons of my own time in my woodshed, as it were, with my wood stove blazing away, singing Russian all day,” the Pennsylvania-based tenor said, taking a break from rehearsals in Tucson last week. ”It’s the most excited I’ve been about learning a new role for a long time. Vocally, Tchaikovsky wrote so well.”

Getting through the hurdle of learning Russian was the hardest part for the 38-year-old singer. But once he got on the set, stage director Sonja Frisell, whose credits include the Metropolitan Opera Company’s current ”Aida,” helped him put it all together. Frisell is a former protegé of directors Franco Zefferelli, JeanPierre Ponelle and Giorgio Strehler at La Scala.

”I like working with Sonja a lot,” Troxell said. ”She’s a real actor’s director. Sonja has really enlightened me about the part. At first I saw Lenski as a kind of neurotic character. He has a duel with a friend (Onegin), just over this guy touching his fiancée’s hand. He says several times that he’s a tortured soul.

”I like him because he’s 18 years old, he’s in love in the true romantic sense of the word and he has these ideals he believes in so much that, as he says in the aria, ‘If it cannot be that way then I chose not to be here.’ ”

Troxell has some impressive credits for a man who sang his first professional operatic role in 1993. He sang the title role in Houston Grand Opera’s ”Tales of Hoffman,” Alfred in Houston’s ”La Traviata,” Pinkerton in the Martin Scorsese’s 1996 film version of ”Madame Butterfly,” and Prunier in Marta Domingo’s recently televised ”La Rondine.”

Not surprisingly, he loved the film work most, because his gestures did not have to be read at the back of the house.

”It was truly a high point for me,” he said. ”We filmed it in Tunisia, Africa. To be on a location like that and to be in an opera and not have to be grandiose was a real special thing. You could be subtle and mean everything you say.

”I did the Rondine that way on TV a few weeks ago, and while in television you get to be subtle, you’re still on the stage. I fell in love with the camera up close. That medium is wonderful.”

Troxell’s upcoming engagements include the world premiere of ”Tales of Genji” with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and Prokofiev’s ”The Love of Three Oranges” with New York City Opera.

He’s excited at the chance to sing the part of Lenski.

”It’s a great role because he’s a romantic poet who is going to live that life out.” he said.


Tchaikovsky’s ”Eugene Onegin” is – well – a typical Russian opera.

Boy (Onegin) meets girl (Tatyana). Girl writes boy a passionate love letter. Boy rejects girl with some silly story about how he’s not ”ready” for love.

Boy has a duel with his best friend (Lenski) and kills him. Boy goes away for a few years to agonize in guilt.

Boy returns home and finds girl married to his cousin (it’s an opera from Southern Russia). They see each other and sparks fly.

Boy writes girl a love letter. They meet, she grudgingly admits she loves him too, then tells him it can’t be, and dumps him.

The end.


• What: Arizona Opera Company’s production of Tchaikovsky’s ”Eugene Onegin.”

• When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 and 15, 2 p.m. Jan. 16.

• Where: Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

• Tickets: $17-$67 through all Ticketmaster outlets (321-1000).


Joanne Kolomyjec is Tatyana in Arizona Opera Company’s production of ”Eugene Onegin.” A doomed love affair is at the heart of the opera.

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