Eugene Onegin, Op. 24, (Russian: Евгений Онегин, Yevgény Onégin) is an opera ("lyrical scenes") in 3 acts (7 scenes), by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto was written by Konstantin Shilovsky and the composer and his brother Modest, and is based on the novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin.
Eugene Onegin is a well-known example of lyric opera; the libretto very closely follows Pushkin's original, retaining much of his poetry, to which Tchaikovsky adds 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; however, he was soon growing excited about the idea and created the scenarios in one night before starting the composition of the music.
Tchaikovsky 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 had 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).
Two years later the first performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow took place on 23 January (11 January O.S.) 1881 with conductor Enrico Bevignani.
The first performance outside Russia took place on 6 December 1888 in Prague conducted by Tchaikovsky himself. 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 Wood conducting. This performance was sung in English, to a text translated by H. S. Edwards.
Vienna first saw Eugene Onegin on 19 November 1897, conducted by Gustav Mahler.
The U.S. premiere was given on 24 March 1920 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The opera was sung in Italian.
29 May 1879
(Conductor: Nikolai Rubinstein)
|Bolshoi Theatre premiere,
23 January 1881
(Conductor: Enrico Bevignani)
Larina, lady of the manor
Tatyana, her daughter
Olga, Tatyana's sister
Filippyevna, a nurse
Triquet, a Frenchman
Guillot, Onegin's valet
Chorus, silent roles: Peasants, peasant women, ballroom guests, landowners and ladies of the manor, officers.
Strings: Violins I, Violins II, Violas, Cellos, Double Basses, Harp
Woodwinds: Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets (A, B-flat), 2 Bassoons
Brass: 4 Horns (F), 2 Trumpets (F), 3 Trombones
This synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published on Opera japonica.
Time: The 1820s
Place: In the country, and in St. Petersburg
Scene 1: The garden of the Larin country estate
Madame Larina (mezzo-soprano) and the nurse (mezzo-soprano) are sitting outside: her two daughters, Tatyana (soprano) and younger sister Olga (contralto), can be heard from inside the house. A group of peasants sing a comic song about the serenading of a miller's daughter. Tatyana is reading a romantic novel and quite absorbed by it, but her mother tells her that real life is very different from such stories. Visitors arrive: Olga's fiancé Lensky (tenor), a young poet, and his friend Eugene Onegin (baritone), a world-weary St Petersburg 'drawing-room automaton' (Nabokov). Lensky introduces Onegin to the Larin family. Onegin is initially surprised that Lensky has chosen the extrovert Olga rather than her romantic elder sister. Tatyana for her part is immediately and strongly attracted to Onegin.
Scene 2: Tatyana's room
Tatyana confesses to her nurse that she is in love. Left alone she writes a letter to Onegin driven by the realization that she is fatally and irreversibly drawn to him (the celebrated 'Letter Scene'). When the old woman returns Tatyana asks her to arrange for the letter to be sent to Onegin.
Scene 3: Another part of the estate
Onegin arrives 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. Tatyana is crushed and unable to reply.
Scene 1: The ballroom of the Larin house
Tatyana's name-day party. Onegin is irritated with the country people who gossip about him and Tatyana, and with Lensky for persuading him to come. He decides to revenge himself by dancing and flirting with Olga. Lensky becomes extremely jealous. Olga is insensitive to her fiancé and apparently attracted to Onegin. There is a diversion, while a French neighbour called Monsieur Triquet (tenor) sings some couplets in honour of Tatyana, after which the quarrel 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.
Scene 2: On the banks of a wooded stream, early morning
Lensky is waiting for Onegin, and sings of his uncertain fate and his love for Olga. Onegin arrives. They are both reluctant to go ahead with the duel but lack the power to stop it. Onegin shoots Lensky dead.
Scene 1: At a ball in the house of a rich nobleman in St Petersburg
Some years have passed. Onegin reflects on the emptiness of his life and his remorse over the death of Lensky. Prince Gremin (bass) enters with his wife, Tatyana, now transformed into a grand, aristocratic beauty. Gremin sings of his great happiness with Tatyana, and introduces Onegin to her. Onegin is deeply impressed by Tatyana, and is fired by a desperate longing to regain her love.
Scene 2: Reception room in Prince Gremin's house
Tatyana has received a letter from Onegin. Onegin enters and begs for her love and her pity. Tatyana wonders why he is now attracted to her. Is it because of her social position? Onegin is adamant that his passion is real and absolute. Tatyana, moved to tears, reflects how near they once were to happiness but nevertheless asks him to leave. She admits she still loves him, but that their union can never be realized, as she is now married. Despite her unhappiness about her marriage and lack of passion for her husband, she will remain faithful to him. Onegin implores her, but she finally leaves him alone in his despair.
Principal arias and numbers
- Aria: "Ah, Tanya, Tanya" (Olga)
- Aria: "Were I a man whom fate intended" (Onegin)
- Aria: Letter Aria "Let me die, but first..." , Сцена письма: «Пускай погибну я, но прежде…» (Tatyana)
- Aria: «Куда, куда вы удалились, весны моей златые дни» (Lensky)
- Aria: "All men surrender to Love's power" «Любви все возрасты покорны» (Gremin)
- Scene: Finale (Onegin, Tatyana)
- No.1 — Duet & Quartet
- No.2 — Chorus & Peasants' Dance
- No.3 — Scena & Olga's Arioso
- No.4 — Scena
- No.5 — Scena & Quartet
- No.6 — Scena
- No.6a – Lensky's Arioso
- No.7 — Closing Scena
- No.8 — Introduction & Scena with the Nurse
- No.9 — Letter Scena
- No.10 – Scena & Duet
- No.11 – Chorus of Maidens
- No.12 – Scena
- No.12a – Onegin's Aria
- No.13 – Entr'acte & Waltz
- No.14 – Scena & Triquet's Couplets
- No.15 – Mazurka & Scena
- No.16 – Finale
- No.17 – Scena
- No.17a – Lensky's Aria
- No.18 – Duel Scena
- No.19 – Polonaise
- No.20 – Scena & Ecossaise
- No.20a – Prince Gremin's Aria
- No.21 – Scena
- No.21a – Onegin's Arioso
- No.22 – Closing Scena
- 1936, Vasiliy Nebolsin (conductor), Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Panteleimon Nortsov (Onegin), Sergey Lemeshev (Lensky), Lavira Zhukovskaya (Tatyana), Bronislava Zlatogorova (Olga), Maria Botienina (Larina), Konkordiya Antarova (Filippyevna), Aleksandr Pirogov (Gremin), I. Kovalenko (Triquet)
- 1948, Aleksandr Orlov (conductor), Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Andrey Ivanov (Onegin), Ivan Kozlovsky (Lensky), Yelena Kruglikova (Tatyana), Maria Maksakova (Olga), B. Amborskaya (Larina), Fayina Petrova (Filippyevna), Mark Reyzen (Gremin), I. Kovalenko (Triquet)
- 1956, Boris Khaikin (conductor), Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Yevgeniy Belov (Onegin), Sergey Lemeshev (Lensky), Galina Vishnevskaya (Tatyana), Larissa Avdeyeva (Olga), Valentina Petrova (Larina), Yevgeniya Verbitskaya (Filippyevna), Ivan Petrov (Gremin), Andrey Sokolov (Triquet), Igor Mikhaylov (Zaretsky)
- 2007 Valery Gergiev (conductor), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Onegin), Ramon Vargas (Lenski), Renee Fleming (Tatiana), Elena Zaremba (Olga), Svetlana Volkova (Larina), Larisa Shevchenko (Filippyevna), Sergei Aleksashkin (Gremin), Jean-Paul Fouchecourt (Triquet), Richard Bernstein (Zaretski), Keith Miller (A captain) (DVD recording)
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.
^ Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man, p. 543. On 7 September 1893, only just over two months before his death, Tchaikovsky visited Hamburg once more, especially to hear Mahler conduct his opera Iolanta (Poznansky, p. 570).
^ This synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published on Opera japonica http://www.operajaponica.org and appears here by permission.