Two Vancouver artists have taken a 19th-century work that inspired an opera by Tchaikovsky and given it a modern reworking that they hope will please both traditional fans of the opera and a new modern audience.

Onegin, which premieres March. 23 at Goldcorpt Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre in Vancouver, is the first musical co-written by musician Veda Hille and playwright Amiel Gladstone, who previously worked together on the show Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata.

Hille and Gladstone's musical version of Onegin — which tells the story of a charismatic young man and his ill-fated romance with a shy village beauty — draws from both the opera by Tchaikovsky and the original novel in verse by 19th-century Russian author Alexander Pushkin which inspired it.


Vancouver playwright Amiel Gladstone and musician Veda Hill co-write Onegin. (David Cooper)

"Even though it's set in the early 19th century it feels like what they're going through is so relevant to our lives today," Hille told The Early Edition's Margaret Gallagher.

Hille said that getting in the head space of the character Tatyana — "an 18-year-old woman in love" — was a thrilling experience and one that reminded her of the ups and downs of being a young woman caught up in a romance.

"I just started to recognize things, and recognize things from my own past, and suddenly remembered when I was younger and these decisions seemed to be life or death."

It won't just be the characters that modern audiences will find relatable. Rather than opera, the music in the play has a contemporary feel, as do the characters' outfits.

"All of the costumes are a mix of things from the day but also all of it is stuff you can buy on Main Street now or any sort of boutique in Vancouver," Gladstone said.

"For the duel we're using actual period pistols. But then there's also things like characters wearing wrist watches," he said.

"The musical instrumentation is also modern, where we have a mix of acoustic instruments and plugged in electrical stuff. It's been an interesting mish mash of trying to figure out what fits into our version."

After making the work their own, Gladstone said he is both "concerned and interested" to see what audiences will think of it.

"Some of it is a really is a radical adaptation and some of it's very true, so it'll be interesting to see how the people who know thew piece respond to it."

With files from CBC's The Early Edition and Margaret Gallagher.

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: A Vancouver take on a classic Russian love story