Eugene Onegin

Beautiful, educated and forthright Tatyana is rejected when she declares her love for Eugene, a rich playboy. Soon after, he kills his best friend in a duel.

Years later, Eugene returns from self-imposed exile to discover Tatyana married to a prince. He realizes – too late – his love for her. In choosing fidelity to her husband, Tatyana denies herself true love – but preserves her honor.

Synopsis

Tchaikovsky described his setting of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin as a Lyric Scenes in Three Acts.

Act I

Scene one.

The curtain rises on a garden at the home of the well-to- do widow Madam Larina. Larina and the nurse Filipevna are gossiping while Larina’s daughters, Olga and Tatyana, can be heard singing. The family is celebrating the end of the harvest, which the peasants announce in a beautiful, emblematically Russian chorus. Olga is taking part in the celebrations, while Tatyana, the older sister remains. Olga’s finace Lensky arrives for a visit, and with him he has brought his new friend Eugene Onegin. Onegin has recently left St. Petersburg to claim his inheritance and estate upon the death of his wealthy uncle. He is well educated, egoistical, bored with the world and melancholy; the perfect 19th century anti- hero. The simple country girl, Tatyana, cannot help but fall in love with him. After the appropriate introductions, Lensky sings of his love for Olga.

Scene Two.

Later that evening, alone in her room, Tatyana writes a long, passionate letter to Onegin, confessing her feelings and begging him to meet her. Her longing are beautifully expressed in the opening of the famous Letter Scene:

Scene Three.

In the garden a few days later, Onegin arrives to meet Tatyana. He is courteous but cool. He dismisses her passionate declaration of love and says he does not have a steady character. He therefore begs Tatyana to forget him, which devastates the young girl.

Act II

Scene One.

A ball is held at Madam Larina’s to celebrate Tatyana’s name day. The guests dance to the famous Waltz. Monsieur Triquet, the dancing master, sings a song in honor of Olga. The simple country people have been gossiping about Onegin and Tatyana. He overhears this gossip and to spite the gossipers, he flirts with Olga and dances the Mazurka with her. This angers his friend Lensky, who believes his honor has been slighted. He confronts Onegin and challenges him to a duel.

Scene Two.

Beside an old mill at dawn the next morning. Lensky arrives at the appointed place and time with his friend Zaretsky, who will be his second for the duel. Lensky sings of lost youth, of how fate will carry him to his destiny. Onegin arrives with his servant. Despite their friendship, neither is willing to reconcile. The duel takes place. Onegin kills his friend Lensky in the duel.

Act III

Scene One.

Six years later. A grand ball is being given at the St. Petersburg home of Prince Gremin. Here Tchaikovsky treats us to a grand ballet with the famous Polonaise. Onegin has been traveling after the death of his friend Lensky. Unexpectedly, he arrives at the ball. He sees Tatyana at the ball. She is now the wife of Prince Gremin, and the hostess of the evening. Seeing how she has grown from a simple country girl into a mature, sophisticated woman, Onegin realizes he has loved her all along. Gremin tells Onegin and his guests how Tatyana has transformed his life, and that a wise man will surrender to true love.

Scene Two.

In an antechamber, Tatyana has agreed to see Onegin. He passionately declares his love for her, much as she had done six years before. She resists him, and stands firm in her fidelity to her husband. She dismisses him – love is unfulfilled as the curtain falls.

POPera Facts

Eugene Onegin, the opera, is based on a poem by the same name by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Its themes of love and loss are universal and timeless.

  • Remember the 2000 movie Cast Away? A Russian FedEx delivery man brings an important package to Tom Hanks’ character and is singing the famous aria sung by Prince Gremin in Act III of Eugene Onegin.
  • Prince Gremin’s aria was used in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley. Matt Damon’s and Cate Blanchett’s characters are at the opera – and Damon’s character (Tom Ripley) sees something of himself in Onegin.
  • The story was made into a 1999 movie called Onegin starring Ralph Fiennes in the title role and Liv Tyler as Tatyana.
  • While composing Onegin in 1877, Tchaikovsky received a love letter from a former student, whom he soon wed. The unhappy marriage lasted just nine weeks before Tchaikovsky left in despair.

Meet the Composer

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

(1840 – 1893)

Peter Tchaikovsky was born in a small town in Russia to Ilya, an engineer who served in the Department of Mines, and Alexandra, the second of Ilya’s three wives.

The composer began piano lessons at age five. Within three years, he could read music as adeptly as his teacher. His parents were initially supportive of his musical pursuits, but in 1850, they sent him to a civil service academy.

He graduated from the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg at age 19 and served the government as a low-ranking employee for three years. In 1854, Tchaikovsky’s mother died of cholera. He never got over the loss.

He returned to his study of music at age 21 and attended classes in music theory by the Russian Musical Society and later followed his teacher to the newly established St. Petersburg Conservatory. From 1862 to 1865, he studied harmony, counterpoint, instrumentation and composition. In 1863, Tchaikovsky abandoned his civil service career and began studying music full-time, graduating from the Conservatory in 1865.

In 1877, Tchaikovsky’s favorite pupil, Vladimir Shilovsky, married suddenly. The wedding may have spurred Tchaikovsky to consider such a leap himself. He entered into a brief, disastrous
marriage to a former student, Antonina Miliukova. The marriage, which lasted fewer than three months, drove him to a state of despair.

This bleak period is framed by two periods of great creativity. Before the crisis, he had written many of his most famous works, including his first three symphonies, the ballet Swan Lake and
his Romeo and Juliet overture. After a period of recovery in Switzerland, he completed his Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin.

He and Antonina remained legally married but never lived together again. The episode probably forced the composer to face the truth about his homosexuality, although he never lived an
openly gay life.

In 1884, Tchaikovsky entered a final productive period, completing his last three symphonies and the ballets Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. His final work, the Sixth Symphony, deals with the ideas of life, struggle and death. Nine days after its premiere, Tchaikovsky died. The circumstances and cause of death are still a mystery.

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EXCLUSIVE STUDENT NIGHT FEATURES:

  • Pre-Opera performances by local students
  • Q&A with cast members at intermission
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