|Opera by Tchaikovsky|
Leonid Sobinov as Vladimir Lensky, 1898
|Native title||Russian: Евгений Онегин (Yevgény Onégin)|
|Based on||Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin
|Premiere||29 March 1879
Maly Theatre, Moscow
Eugene Onegin (Russian: Евгений Онегин, Yevgény Onégin), Op. 24, is an opera ("lyrical scenes") in 3 acts (7 scenes), composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto, organised by the composer himself, very closely follows certain passages in Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse, retaining much of his poetry. Tchaikovsky's friend Konstantin Shilovsky contributed M. Triquet's verses in Act 2, Scene 1, while Tchaikovsky himself arranged the text for Lensky's arioso in Act 1, Scene 1, and almost all of Prince Gremin's aria in Act 3, Scene 1.
Eugene Onegin is a well-known example of lyric opera, to which Tchaikovsky added music of a dramatic nature. The story concerns a selfish hero who lives to regret his blasé rejection of a young woman's love and his careless incitement of a fatal duel with his best friend.
The opera was first performed in Moscow in 1879. There are several recordings of it, and it is regularly performed. The work's title refers to the protagonist.
In May 1877, the opera singer Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya spoke to Tchaikovsky about creating an opera based on the plot of Pushkin's verse novel Eugene Onegin. At first this idea seemed wild to the composer, according to his memoirs. Tchaikovsky felt that the novel wasn't properly strong in plot – a dandy rejects a young country girl, she successfully grows into a worldly woman, he tries to seduce her but it is too late. The strength of the novel resided in its character development and social commentary, as well as in the beauty of its literary delivery. Soon enough however and after a sleepless night, Tchaikovsky came to embrace the idea. He was soon growing excited about the suggestion and created the scenarios in one night before starting the composition of the music.
Tchaikovsky, with some minor involvement by Konstantin Shilovsky, used original verses from Pushkin's novel and chose scenes that involved the emotional world and fortunes of his heroes, calling the opera "lyrical scenes." The opera is episodic; there is no continuous story, just selected highlights of Onegin's life. Since the original story was so well known, Tchaikovsky knew his audience could easily fill in any details that he omitted. A similar treatment is found in Puccini's La bohème. The composer finished the opera by January 1878.
Tchaikovsky worried whether the public would accept his opera, which lacked traditional scene changes. He believed that its performance required maximum simplicity and sincerity. With this in mind, he entrusted the first production to the students of the Moscow Conservatory. The premiere took place on 29 March (17 March O.S.) 1879 at the Maly Theatre, Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein, with set designs by Karl Valts (Waltz).
Outside Russia the initial reception was lukewarm, and it was slow to conquer other European cities, being seen as a Russian curiosity. The first performance outside Russia took place on 6 December 1888 in Prague, conducted by Tchaikovsky himself, although the rehearsals had been the responsibility of Adolf Čech. It was sung in Czech and translated by Marie Červinková-Riegrová.
The first performance in Hamburg, on 19 January 1892, was conducted by Gustav Mahler, in the composer's presence. Tchaikovsky was applauded after each scene and received curtain calls at the end. He attributed its success to Mahler, whom he described as "not some average sort, but simply a genius burning with a desire to conduct".
The first performance in England took place on 17 October 1892 at the Olympic Theatre in London with Henry J. Wood conducting. This performance was sung in English, to a text translated by H. S. Edwards.
|Role||Voice type||Moscow premiere,
29 March 1879
(Conductor: Nikolai Rubinstein)
|Bolshoi Theatre premiere,
23 January 1881
(Conductor: Eduard Nápravník)
|Larina, lady of the manor||mezzo-soprano|
|Tatyana, her daughter||soprano||Mariya Klimentova||Yelena Verni|
|Olga, Tatyana's sister||contralto||Aleksandra Levitskaya||Aleksandra Krutikova|
|Filippyevna, a nanny||mezzo-soprano|
|Lensky||tenor||Mikhail Medvedyev||Dmitri Usatov|
|Eugene Onegin||baritone||Sergey Gilyov||Pavel Khokhlov|
|Prince Gremin||bass||Vasiliy Makhalov||Abram Abramov|
|Triquet, a Frenchman||tenor|
|Guillot, Onegin's valet||silent|
|Chorus, silent roles: Peasants, peasant women, ballroom guests, landowners and ladies of the manor, officers.|
Source: Tchaikovsky Research
Time: The 1820s
Scene 1: The garden of the Larin country estate
Madame Larina and the nurse Filippyevna are sitting outside in the garden. They can hear Madame Larina's two daughters, Tatyana and her younger sister Olga, singing a love song. Madame Larina begins to reminisce about her own courtship and marriage. A group of peasants enter, and celebrate the harvest with songs and dances. Tatyana and Olga watch. Tatyana has been reading a romantic novel and is absorbed by the story; her carefree sister, on the other hand, wants to join in the celebrations. Madame Larina tells Tatyana that real life is very different from her novels. Filippyevna announces that visitors have arrived: Olga's fiancé Lensky, a young poet, and his friend Eugene Onegin, visiting the area from St Petersburg. The pair are shown in and Lensky introduces Onegin to the Larin family. Onegin is initially surprised that Lensky has chosen the extrovert Olga rather than her more subtle elder sister as his fiancée. Tatyana for her part is immediately and strongly attracted to Onegin. Lensky expresses his delight at seeing Olga and she responds flirtatiously. Onegin tells Tatyana of his boredom in the country and describes the death of his uncle and his subsequent inheritance of a nearby estate. Filippyevna recognizes that Onegin has had a profound effect on Tatyana.
Scene 2: Tatyana's room
Tatyana is dressed for bed. Restless and unable to sleep, she asks her nurse Filippyevna to tell her about her youth and early marriage. Tatyana confesses that she is in love. Left alone, Tatyana pours out her feelings in a letter to Onegin. She tells him that she loves him and believes that she will never feel this way about anyone else, and begs him to understand and help her. She finishes writing the letter at dawn. A shepherd's pipe is heard in the distance. Filippyevna enters the room to wake Tatyana. Tatyana persuades her to send her grandson to deliver the letter to Onegin.
Scene 3: Another part of the estate
Servant girls pick fruit and sing as they work. Tatyana waits anxiously for Onegin's arrival. Onegin enters to see Tatyana and give her his answer to her letter. He explains, not unkindly, that he is not a man who loves easily and is unsuited to marriage. He is unworthy of her love and can only offer her brotherly affection. He warns Tatyana to be less emotionally open in the future. The voices of the servant girls singing are heard again. Tatyana is crushed and unable to reply.
Scene 1: The ballroom of the Larin house
A ball is being given in honour of Tatyana, whose name day it is. Onegin is dancing with her. He grows irritated with a group of neighbours who gossip about him and Tatyana, and with Lensky for persuading him to come to the ball. He decides to avenge himself by dancing and flirting with Olga. Lensky is astounded and becomes extremely jealous. He confronts Olga but she cannot see that she has done anything wrong and tells Lensky not to be ridiculous. Onegin asks Olga to dance with him again and she agrees, as "punishment" for Lensky's jealousy. The elderly French tutor Monsieur Triquet sings some couplets in honour of Tatyana, after which the quarrel between Lensky and Onegin becomes more intense. Lensky renounces his friendship with Onegin in front of all the guests, and challenges Onegin to a duel, which the latter is forced, with many misgivings, to accept. Tatyana collapses and the ball ends in confusion.
Scene 2: On the banks of a wooded stream, early morning
Lensky is waiting for Onegin with his second Zaretsky. Lensky reflects on his life, his fear of death and his love for Olga. Onegin arrives with his manservant Guillot. Both Lensky and Onegin are reluctant to go ahead with the duel, reflecting on the senselessness of their sudden enmity. But it is too late; neither man has the courage to stop the duel. Zaretsky gives them the signal and Onegin shoots Lensky dead.
Scene 1: The house of a rich nobleman in St Petersburg
Five years have passed, during which Onegin has travelled extensively around Europe. Standing alone at a ball, he reflects on the emptiness of his life and his remorse over the death of Lensky. Prince Gremin enters with Tatyana, his wife, now a grand, aristocratic beauty. She is greeted by many of the guests with great deference. Onegin is taken aback when he sees Tatyana, and deeply impressed by her beauty and noble bearing. Tatyana, in turn, is overwhelmed with emotion when she recognizes him, but tries to suppress it. Gremin tells Onegin about his great happiness and love for Tatyana, and re-introduces Onegin to his wife. Onegin, suddenly injected with new life, realizes that he is in love with Tatyana. He determines to write to her and arrange a meeting.
Scene 2: A room in Prince Gremin's house
Tatyana has received Onegin's letter, which has stirred up the passion she felt for him as a young girl and disturbed her. Onegin enters. Tatyana recalls her earlier feelings and asks why Onegin is pursuing her now. Is it because of her social position? Onegin denies any cynical motivation: his passion is real and overwhelming. Tatyana, moved to tears, reflects how near they once were to happiness but nevertheless asks him to leave. He asks her to have pity. Tatyana admits she still loves Onegin, but asserts that their union can never be realized, as she is now married, and determined to remain faithful to her husband despite her true feelings. Onegin implores her to relent, but she bids him farewell forever, leaving him alone and in despair.
Source: Tchaikovsky Research
Sung in English:
Prince Gremin's aria «Любви все возрасты покорны» – "To love both young and old surrender" (Act III, Scene I) is partially hummed by the characters of Vershinin and Masha in Anton Chekhov's play Three Sisters.