Dallas Opera built its reputation on singing and on well-rehearsed ensemble. The production of Tchaikovsky's `Eugene Onegin' earlier this season proved that the reputation continues to be richly deserved. I had to reach back to the New York visit of the Bolshoi Opera in 1976 to recall a performance to rival Dallas's.

Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus is clearly the great Onegin of the day and one of the finest singing actors before the public today. Renee Fleming, making her company debut singing her first Tatyana, made an uncommonly radiant heroine vocally and histrionically. As Lenski, the young Russian tenor Alexander Fedin (in his US debut) revealed a potent lightish voice wedded to an honest, communicative musical sensibility.

Eric Halfvarson was the superb Gremin; Melanie Sonnenberg (another Dallas debut) made something vital and vibrant of the normally ungrateful role of Olga. Gweneth Bean, Wendy Hillhouse, and Peter Blanchet added luster in their respective roles.

Director Dejan Miladinovic, working on the Lyric Opera of Chicago production (designed by Pier Luigi Samaritani) created a subtle and compassionate world in which the drama unfolded, full of nuances and details that made the human drama all the more gripping. The former music director of the Bolshoi, Yuri Simonov, was the superb conductor.

The Dallas Opera closes its season with Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," with Ruth Ann Swenson and Jerry Hadley, onstage until Feb. 6.

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