With all of the arrogance of the Russian aristocracy, Eugene Onegin rejects the shy Tatyana because she is not of his class.
So begins the tale of unrequited love in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” opening on Saturday, July 24, at the Santa Fe Opera.
Baritone Lucas Meachem plays the snobbish Onegin.
“I never think of my characters in a negative light,” Meachem said in a telephone interview. “I have to know they’re doing what they do for a reason.
“Onegin, he’s more of a product of his time,” he continued. “It’s Russian aristocracy back in the 1800s. It’s the reason the French Revolution happened; it’s the reason the Russian Revolution happened. He’s a complete snob. He’s arrogant. I just think of her as a country girl who reads for fun and I’m going off to Paris. But in the end, he’s taught a lesson.”
When the pair meet later, Tatyana’s status exceeds his. Too late, Onegin despairs of his mistake, enveloped in Tchaikovsky’s lush melodies.
A staple of opera houses across both the U.S. and Europe, Meachem grew up in the South.
“I’m just a southern boy who did well,” he said. “I grew up in the sticks of North Carolina.”
The Grammy Award-winning baritone sang in choirs, then won a partial scholarship to Appalachian State University. From there he won full scholarships to the Eastman School of Music and Yale University.
“There were no meteoric moments,” he said, “just a steady climb.
“In the beginning, I just loved to sing,” he continued. “I don’t get nervous at all. I love going up and doing ridiculous things on stage.
“It’s the grandiosity of the art form I love today,” he said.
After Santa Fe, Meachem will perform in “Tannhäuser,” at the Los Angeles Opera, in “Carmen” in Europe and in the Metropolitan Opera production of “La Bohème.” The San Francisco Opera gave him its inaugural “Emerging Star of the Year” award in 2016.
Soprano Sara Jakubiak sings the role of Tatyana, the naive waif who falls hard for Onegin.
“I think she was a very young girl at the beginning,” Jakubiak said in a telephone interview. “She blossoms into a rose garden of a woman. What amazes me is her awareness, her intelligence. She is completely smitten with Onegin in the beginning. (But) she decides to remain with a man who respects her for everything she is.”
The opera marks Jakubiak’s return to Santa Fe after a stint as an apprentice singer in 2007.
“It’s very different because I see these young artists around me,” she said. “You sort of see where you started; it’s a really interesting place to be.”
Jakubiak grew up in semi-rural Michigan before earning master’s degrees from both Yale University and the Cleveland Institute of Music.
“I was a very shy person,” she said. “Nobody tells a daughter to grow up and do this job.”
At first, she thought she wanted to become a teacher until a stint at student teaching changed her plans. She thought she might teach voice at the college level until she attended Colorado’s Central City Opera as a young artist. A woman from Yale recruited her.
“I said, ‘No, I’m really tired of school.’ She said, ‘We really focus on performance and we bring people in to work with you.’ ”
To New Haven, Connecticut, she went. She first sang professionally at Deutsche Oper Berlin. She performed “Eugene Onegin” in Frankfurt five years ago.
Ever the perfectionist, she still sometimes wonders if this will be her last job.
“Now I have several years of work ahead of me,” she said.
After Santa Fe, Jakubiak will sing the role of Elisabeth in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” at the Los Angeles Opera.