Eugene Onegin, the book, was written by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) and tells the story, all in poetic verse, of a certain Eugene Onegin – a self-centered, superficial, arrogant, worldly, cynical, selfish, aristocratic jerk from Saint Petersberg who inherits a farm out on the Steppes from a dying uncle. He goes out to the farm, meets the neighbor boy Lensky, a poetic, naive, sensitive lad and they get to know a couple of the his neighbors daughters. Olga, a flirt and Tatiana a more serious bookish sort.
“Kiprensky Pushkin” by Orest Adamovich Kiprensky – http://artportret.ru/?page=24. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kiprensky_Pushkin.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Kiprensky_Pushkin.jpg
Olga and Lensky are “going” together and it is assumed, I gather that Eugene will pick up on Tatiana and indeed Tatiana becomes infatuated with Eugene Onegin and writes him an impassioned love letter. He responds with a lecture on self-control – this little episode is sometimes referred to as Onegin’s Sermon. It is quite condescending it actually borders on insulting. Later there’s a ball, Onegin flirts too much with Olga the flirt – Lensky loses it and challenges Onegin to a duel, they duel; Lensky dies.
Onegin travels the earth and some years later, at a ball in Saint Petersberg, he sees a woman of royal bearing and radiant beauty, exuding charisma and charm – it’s Tatiana! She’s married to a prince, an “old soldier” and is doing quite well, thank you. Onegin realizes he is madly in love with her; Tatiana tells him to bug off; story ends with Onegin utterly crushed; emotionally and spiritually destroyed.
You feel bad for him but in a kind of good way.
Incidentally, Pushkin died in a duel. It was his 27th.
Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was a Russian composer of such mega-hits as The Sleeping Beauty Ballet, The Nutcracker Ballet, The 1812 Overture, six amazingly great symphonies, some transcendentally beautiful string serenades, and count them, eleven operas of which Eugene Onegin is number five chronologically speaking, but number one in popular performances.
“Tchaikovsky”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tchaikovsky.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Tchaikovsky.jpg
I saw it performed by Arizona Opera Friday night. It was an awesome performance and an awesome experience.
Here’s a review, which I largely agree with, except for the criticism of the scenic design: http://www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/arts/2015/02/07/opera-review-cast-delivers-nuanced-onegin/23029843/
I thought the scenic design, by Laura Fine Hawkes was extremely effective and clever. Our reviewer above faults it for it’s minimalist presentation. No. It was perfect. This isn’t an opera like Lucia de Lammermoor or Aida with big production numbers. It’s a literary opera hewing close to the original poetic verses Pushkin wrote, and it produces an internal experience. It is staging, singing, performing, with orchestral accompaniment, a story told entirely in verse.
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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Onegin_%28opera%29
A large painted backdrop was used throughout and it fascinated me. It was a screen painted with leaves – quite simple and appropriate for the agrarian scenes. But as it was lit differently for different scenes, it changed hue like the paint was some new kind of stage paint that changes color when lit differently. It was really cool.
I hadn’t seen this opera before, so it was new to me. I sat with some Slavic friends of ours who speak Russian fluently and they were chuckling at the translations. Obviously since I speak precisely zero Russian it was all Greek to me. But I thoroughly enjoyed it – quite a different kind of opera experience since as I mentioned before, it really isn’t a big-show production central to much of opera, but kind of like have Eugene Onegin read to you out loud by the characters on stage, singing melodies by Tchaikovsky. Cool, I mean insanely cool. It was really a blast!