PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) _ Tchaikovsky's ``Eugene Onegin'' usually focuses on the lost love of the title character and Tatyana, the peasant girl who rises to princess.

To the distraction of the audience, Kay Walker Castaldo inserted communist revolutionaries in her production at the Opera Festival of New Jersey.

A red banner was held up during the party scene at Prince Gremin's palace, and three communist snipers slowly made their way across the back of the stage during the final scene between Onegin and Tatyana.

Otherwise, there was much to be admired of Thursday's production at the McCarter Theater, the third in a run of five.

Erhard Rom's sets, with curtains and chandeliers, and Patricia Hibbert's costumes, with ballgowns, cutaways and tailcoats, convey the opulence of the scenes, establishing elegant surroundings for Onegin's duel with Lensky and for Tatyana's rise from peasant girl to princess.

Soprano Frederique Vezina was a striking Tatyana, and her voice showed promise, but was a bit strident in the upper register, especially during the letter scene. Stephen Powell was an ardent Onegin, matching Vezina's dramatic intensity both his confrontation with Lensky and his closing pleas with Tatyana.

Tenor Richard Clement, who sang Lensky, was unable to convey his character's lyricism, sounding strained in the upper register. Jennifer Hines was a bouncy Olga, Robert Pomakov a somewhat dry Gremin and John Easterlin a foppish Triquet.

Conductor Dean Williamson, leading the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, had a generally elegant portrayal, although the woodwinds had occasional problems and the strings weren't hefty enough to balance the brass.

There is no shortage of Russian opera available these days. The Kirov, is the midst of a three-week stay at the New York's Metropolitan Opera, performs ``Onegin'' starting June 19.

The New Jersey festival's 20th season, which runs through July 19, also includes Berg's ``Wozzeck'' and Rossini's ``L'Italiana in Algeri.''

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