Eugene Onegin


Lyrical sketches in seven scenes

Renewal of K. Stanislavsky production, 1922
Libretto by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Shilovsky after the same name novel by Alexander Pushkin

Renewal Director – Dmitry Bertman
Music Director – Kirill Tikhonov
Renewal Designer – Viacheslav Okunev
Light Designer – Damir Ismagilov
Stage Choreographer  – Edwald Smirnov
Premiere – 23.12.2015
Language of performance – Russian


The idea of creating an opera based on the Pushkin’s verse novel was pitched to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky by contralto singer Yelizaveta Andreyevna Lavrovskaya. “It seemed to me wild”, — the composer told his brother Modest. But as little as a few hours later he understood, that the singer, whom he had supposed to play the part of Boyarinya Morozova in “The Guardsman” and recently devoted Six Romances and Songs op. 27, gave him a luxurious present. He didn’t’ sleep that night:  “The result … was the script of a lovely opera with the Pushkin’s poetry”.

There were two problems connected with this conception. The first one was that the plot was not suitable for putting it on stage, and it became immediately obvious. Tchaikovsky wrote about it in a letter to his brother: “Though my opera is unstageable, though there is little motion in it, but I’m in love with the Tatiana’s image and charmed by the Pushkin’s poetry…” The second problem being deeper was more dangerous: he had to work with the Pushkin’s poetry. The examples of what needed to be done with it had already been given by Aleksander Dargomyzhsky in “Triumph of Bacchus” and “The Stone Guest” — the both compositions were based on the original Pushkin’s poetry without changing anything. Tchaikovsky couldn’t do the same with “Onegin”. He faced the necessity of great changes when converting reported speech into the direct as well as the necessity of expanded supplements. But many people knew this novel by heart! The librettist would inevitably be much criticized. Tchaikovsky couldn’t fail to understand it, because not long ago Pavel Viskovatov was in similar situation — at the suit of Anton Rubinstein he had converted into libretto the poem “Demon” by Mikhail Lermontov. Apparently it was the reason why Konstantin Shilovsky, who helped Tchaikovsky in creation of “Onegin”, was not indicated as the librettist.

The work went quickly: the opera was commenced in May 1877 and finished on 20 January (1 February) 1878. The “biographical background” of the creative process was the story of the composer’s marriage: letters of Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova so  vividly resembled him the letter of Tatiana to Onegin … Alas, the destiny of Miliukova turned out to be much more tragical than Larina’s.

The premiere of “Eugene Onegin” took place on 17 (29) March 1879 on the stage of the Maly Theatre by efforts of the students of the Moscow Conservatory accompanied by a small choir and orchestra. Tchaikovsky explained his choice the following way: “I will never give this opera to the Theatres’ board prior to staging it in the Conservatory. I wrote it for the Conservatory, because for this performance I need not a great scene with its routine, pretenses, mediocre directors, senseless  though luxurious production, waving machines instead of chapelmasters etc.”. That production ended by Gremin, who appeared interrupting the scene of Tatiana and Onegin. This episode was soon changed by Tchaikovsky. 11 (23) January 1881 in the official premier at the Bolshoi Theatre the last scene was played without Gremin.

“Eugene Onegin” quickly gained the love of audience. Petersburg, Prague, Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin — new productions appeared one by one. The libretto was translated into several languages. In Istanbul the opera was first played in Italian. The unstageable play turned out to be a welcomed guest on the world stages, because the Tchaikovsky’s music in “Onegin” was as genius as the Pushkin’s poetry.


Scene 1
The Guests’ Arrival to the Larin’s Estate

The Larin’s daughters Tatyana and Olga are singing a romance based on the text of the Zhukovsky’s poem “Pevets (The Singer”). Their mother together with nurse Filippyevna are resting, reminiscing and discussing: dead dreams are changed with a habit, which is a “substitute for happiness”. Suddenly the guests arrive: a Larin’s neighbor, who is in love with Olga, — poet Vladimir Lensky — and his friend Eugene Onegin, who has lately come from Saint-Petersburg. Lensky is passionately declaring his love to Olga, while Onegin is making a conversation with her sister. The nurse is afraid that Tatyana may fall in love with this new gentleman. 

Scene 2
The Letter

Tatyana is unable to sleep at night. She is writing a letter to Onegin, declaring her love to him, as she has read in her favorite books. The nurse is charged to give him this letter.

Scene 3
The Date

Servant girls are picking berries in the garden. Onegin, instead of replying the letter, has come himself, to Tatyana’s despair, and makes his confession to her. He doesn’t share the Tatyana’s feelings. And finally Onegin advises her: “Be able to dominate your emotions”.

Scene 4
The Larin’s Ball

All the neighboring landowners have come to visit Tatyana on her name day. The fans of dance, interrupting each other, are thanking the rota commander for the military musicians. Onegin feels boredom at the rural ball and is bothered with the landladies’ gossips. He wants to take a slight revenge to Lensky, who has brought him to the Larin’s place, and Onegin engages Olga for each dance. A French Triquet sings a verse in honour of Tatyana. Lensky is quarrelling with Onegin and finally offends him. He challenges his friend to a duel and Onegin accepts it. 

Scene 5
The Duel

Lensky and his second have arrived to the destination on time. Onegin has been very late violating the duel code; moreover he has a French servant instead of his second. But nevertheless the duel has taken place. Lensky is killed.

Scene 6
The Gremin’s Ball

On his return to Saint-Petersburg after aimless wanderings Onegin goes to a ball, but feels bored there. Suddenly he sees Tatyana who has already been the Princess Gremina, the wife of his relative and friend. Eugene is amazed with her change.
The Prince introduces Onegin to his wife. The Gremin’s family leaves the ball. 

Scene 7
The Final Scene

Onegin comes to Tatyana and declares his love to her. But this time it is she, who advises him: “Be able to dominate your emotions”.

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