On Oct. 20, Washington’s Russian Chamber Art Society will open its 11th season of presenting concerts of Russian art songs and arias with a gala dinner performance, “Pushkin and Tchaikovsky: An Immortal Meeting of Russian Romantics,” at the Embassy of France.
The performance will comprise highlights of “Eugene Onegin,” the opera that Tchaikovsky based on Pushkin’s novel in verse, sung in Russian by four vocalists. These excerpts will be interspersed with readings by Woolly Mammoth company member Rick Foucheux.
The Georgetown recently spoke with Foucheux about his Washington-based career and this unusual venture.
*How did you get involved in the D.C. theater world?*
**RF:** I came here to do television. I was a talk show host. I came here to do “Good Morning Washington” at Channel 7 in 1982. And after a year of doing that, I left that industry altogether and went into the theater because it was my first love.
When I left my work in broadcasting, I was still able to make a living as a freelancer because the government sponsors a lot of training films, industrial films, so I did a lot of on-camera work in that regard. But at the same time I was beginning to audition for the likes of these small theaters called Woolly Mammoth, Source, the Folger. I grew up as a theater artist at the same time the Washington theater community was growing up.
Theater can take place anywhere. You can do theater in a small room. You don’t need bells and whistles to have an audience respond to a theatrical event. And this is what set these wonderful artistic directors aside: Howard Shalwitz, Joy Zinoman. Michael Kahn, of course, has always had the bells and whistles because he’s established this larger theater. But in the early days, we [at Woolly Mammoth] were in a church basement at 9th and G. And it was an excellent lesson for a young theater artist to learn that you can create a castle onstage just by your thinking there’s a castle onstage.
*So having that experience working with the “shoestring” version of Woolly Mammoth was very useful in developing the craft.*
**RF:** Absolutely. Just to understand the power of the actor. It’s so much more than just learning the lines and doing what the director tells you to do. It’s the work that Vera [Danchenko-Stern, RCAS founder and artistic director] and I have been doing today about establishing the ball, establishing the country, establishing the city, establishing the grove where the duel takes place.
*What was your reaction to this invitation from RCAS?*
**RF:** Vera got me at a time when I had begun to pull back from my activities. I have young grandchildren now. I’ve spent the past 30 years giving myself primarily to the theater and here, in the last third of my life, I decided I wanted to give back to my family who has sacrificed so much.
*What is new to you? Is “Onegin” new to you? Is Russian music new to you?*
**RF:** I knew of the story of “Eugene Onegin,” but I had never read it. And I’ve always been a fan of music of Tchaikovsky, but I’m a casual listener, I’m not an educated listener or an intellect. And so my experience with Tchaikovsky’s take on “Onegin” will be new for me, getting to work so closely onstage with a maestra so acclaimed as Vera will be new for me and getting to know her. Often a rehearsal process on these things includes, you come in once or twice and you just sit there, you speak it, they do it and that’s all. Thank you very much and you’re out of the room. Vera’s hospitality has been an important part of this process and I daresay it’s what will make our performance special, that when we’re onstage we’ll have a relationship. I hope to form some similar relationship with the singers as well.
*In the script, you’re playing all four characters and the narrator. What kind of a challenge is that?*
**RF:** That will be something of a challenge. I have to figure out where to put Pushkin’s voice, where to put Onegin’s voice and where to put Lensky’s voice. And then also I have to figure out a place to put Tatyana’s voice.
*As you read through the script now, do you identify more with one of the characters or with any of the incidents in the story? Do they have resonance in your own life?*
**RF:** Well, in my own life, I’m not so sure. But I’m touched by the tragedy of this. I’m touched by the meaning that is taken wrongly and therefore leads to such tragedy. We look at the story and we say, how far back can we go? To say, if only he wouldn’t have done that, if only he wouldn’t have done that, if only she wouldn’t have done that. You know, to think of someone dying and then two lives, in addition to the death, being wasted just because they were missing the point, as it were.