The premiere of "Eugene Onegin" in "Helikon-opera"

On the 23rd of December, 2015 Moscow music theater Helikon-Opera under Dmitry Bertman will present the second premiere of the 26th theatre season. In the Stravinsky Hall in Bolshaya Nikitskaya street 19/16,  in the renewed historical building Helikon-Opera will restore the production of K. S. Stanislavsky’s “Eugene Onegin” of 1922.

Directors of Recreation - People's Artist of Russia Dmitry BERTMAN, Galina TIMAKOVA
Music Director – People's Artist of Russia Vladimir PONKIN
Set Designer of Recreation – Viacheslav OKUNEV
Costume Designer  –  Nika VELEGZHANINOVA
Lighting  –  Denis ENIUKOV
Choirmaster – Eugene ILIN
Choreographer  –  Edvald SMIRNOV
Libretto by Piotr Tchaikovsky based on the novel in verse by A. S. Pushkin

"Eugene Onegin" opera takes a special place in the life and works of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. Pushkin's story was very personal to him, it had family roots. Composer’s mother Alexandra Andreevna, being a student of the Patriotic Institute, made a record of the newly published chapters of "Onegin" in her poetic's notebook. The story of her acquaintance and then marriage with Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky is reminiscent to Pushkin's Tatyana meeting with her future husband.

So, Onegin’s story matured in Tchaikovsky's mind since his early childhood. Not coincidentally the first notes of his opera composer did in the family volume of Pushkin works, published in 1838.

But an accident that occurs during the meeting with Elizabeth Andreyevna Lavrovskaya induces him to choose "Eugene Onegin" as a plot of his next opera. In a letter to his brother Modest Tchaikovsky he described this episode in detail: "Last week I was somehow at Lavrovskaya. The conversation turned on stories for the opera. Her stupid husband was talking unimaginable nonsense and offered impossible stories. Lizaveta Andreevna was silent and was smiling good-naturedly, when she said: "Why not to take "Eugene Onegin"? The thought seemed wild to me and I did not answer. Then, dining in a restaurant alone, I recalled "Onegin", pondered on and then began to find Lavrovskaya’s idea to be possible, then I became enthusiastic and resolved to it by the end of lunch. Immediately I ran to look for Pushkin’s book. With some difficulty I found it, went home, reread it with delight and spent quite a sleepless night, the result of which was a lovely scenarium of the opera upon Pushkin’s text". In the same letter, the composer explained the pecularities of his idea: "I'm glad to get rid of the Ethiopian princesses, Pharaohs, poisonings, any kind of bombast. What a depth of poetry there is in "Onegin".

I am not mistaken; I know that there will be minimum of stage effects and movement in this opera. But the general poetry, humanity and simplicity of the story combined with brilliant text will replace these drawbacks with a vengeance". Subtitling "lyrical scenes" Tchaikovsky sought to emphasize the "humanity" of his work in every way. That is why he entrusted to young artists, students of the Conservatory the first night of the opera. For the first time, "Eugene Onegin" was staged on the 17thof March, 1879 at the Maly Theater. There were chamber orchestra and chorus: the choir of 28 female and 20 male students, an orchestra of 32 people (four professors of the Conservatory and two musicians from the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre were among them). Nikolay Rubinstein conducted the performance. Ivan Samarin, an actor of the Maly Theater, was a stage director.

Soon the opera came first to the imperial stage of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, and then to the Mariinsky stage in St. Petersburg, for which Tchaikovsky made a number of changes in his "Onegin". That’s how "lyrical scenes" turned into a large opera.

The scenic fate of "Onegin" turned to be unprecedentedly successful, bothduring the composer's life and after his death, the opera was not only shown on the main stages of Russia and Europe, but also in private companies, as students or home performances.

In the beginning of 1920ies Konstantin Stanislavsky chose it for his Opera Studio. Post-revolutionary chaos, famine, civil war reigned in the country. Stanislavski himself was in a very distressed state at that time. Together with his large family he was evicted from his house in the Karetny Ryad that was expropriated for the garage of the Sovnarkom. Largely due to the efforts offriends and the Commissar of Education Anatoly Lunacharsky Stanislavsky’s family was allocated in the roomsof a house in Leontievsky Lane, 6. Opera studio moved to the same house, according to the decree of the Small Sovnarkom. For the first time in January of 1921, Stanislavski with his Studio transgressed the threshold of the cold building, unheated at that time. Witnesses recall that seeing the antique marble of the portico, separating the hall of the mansion into two unequal parts, Stanislavsky said: "Here you have a ready-made decoration for Onegin".

Here,on the 15th of June, 1922 the whole "Eugene Onegin" opera was presented for the first time. Stanislavski described his "Onegin" as follows: "The fact was that all seven Tchaikovsky’s scenes, with choirs andtwo balls, we had to put in a little room of an old mansion, which we got at the disposal of the Opera Studio. In addition to the small size of the room, there was another obstacle, namely, the hall was divided by a thick arch with four large marble columns, beautiful from architectural side andtypical for the time of Pushkin and Onegin. It would be barbaric to destroy them, and therefore we had to incorporate them into the production, in the director's intention and mise en scene.

 In the first scene of the opera the columns and arch were adapted to the terrace of Larin’s home. In the second picture they formed the alcove, typical for the era, Tatiana’s bed was placed in the alcove. Inthe third picture arch with columns complemented with a bosket trellis, formed a garden gazebo, where a meeting of Onegin and Tatiana was taking place. In the fourth scene stairs leading to the ballroom of Larin’s home was inserted between the columns. In the fifth scene the marble columns were decorated with blankets covered withbark, which turned them into the trunks of pine forest on the edge of which a duel took place. In the sixth scene the columns formed a bed and a place for the guests of honor at General Gremin’s ball. Thus, columns were the center around which the decorations were planned and adapted to the production. Columns become a typical accessory of the studio and the attributes of her badge or a coat of arms. 

In autumn 1922 the performance moved to the big stage and on24th of November, "Onegin" was the first night on the stage of the New Theatre (now the Russian Academic Youth Theatre). Nikolay Semenovich Golovanov directed the musical part, who also conducted the performances, which involved the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, the rest were shown with participation of the studio's own orchestra. Since 1924 conductor Vyacheslav Suk became music director of the Studio.

In 1926by order of Sovnarkom and the Central Executive Committee, Stanislavsky Opera Studio and Music Studio of V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko was united under one roof of Dmitrovsky Theatre (now Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre). At first, the coexistence was heavy and painful enough, two self-contained troupes with its own established order and its own repertoire, two directorates and one orchestra. Despite the complexity of relations between the two groups, Stanislavsky’s "Eugene Onegin" firmly settled down on the stage of the Bolshaya Dmitrovka and lasted until the end of 2001. In less than 80 years of existence, "Onegin" staged by Stanislavsky was played 2098 times. Over the years, several generations of artists, conductors and others were engaged in the production,. It was in Stanislavski Studio where unknown to everyone 23-year-old Sergei Lemeshev first performed Lensky in the winter of 1925-1926.

During all movements and transfers at the request of Stanislavsky the performance retained its original idea as much as possible, as well as the basis of the stage design, the portico of the hall of the house in Leontiev lane. Produced in the home conditions the performance became on the one hand a return to the Tchaikovsky’s "lyrical scenes", on the other hand it opened a new era in the history of Russian opera theater stage directing.

Dmitry Bertman, "Stanislavsky method is that the work with the artist is accomplished today and now. Therefore, our "Eugene Onegin" is not the dead restoration, but rather a performance based on Stanislavski method; performance, in which his principles of work are revived and external drawing of a stagingis saved. This drawing will be filled according to the Stanislavsky method, but today.

I think that by now we, directors, have done a lot of things: eye-popping conceptions, crazy decisions, transfers of the action... We have made a great progress, but we are moving in a spiral development from the sensual art to conceptual theatre. And now is the time to make this romantic, beautiful, upbeat performance on the Moscow stage, so it would continue to live. In my life there have been several attempts to return to it: GITIS students diploma performance, the performance in Tartu (Estonia)... Even my own productions of "Eugene Onegin" in Stockholm and in my native Helikon-opera were influenced by Stanislavsky."

The premiere performances will take place from the 23rd to 26th of December 2015 on the historical stage of Helikon-Opera in Nikitskaya 19/16. Performances start at 19:00. The performance on December 27th starts at 16:00.

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