Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin, 1879

Friday 3rd & 10th November

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Born in 1840, he was one of the first students at the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory. He married in 1877, to escape the stigma of homosexuality; weeks later left his wife, attempted suicide and fled abroad. He died in 1893, possibly by suicide.  In his short and sad life he had composed 169 pieces, including symphonies, operas, ballets, concertos, cantatas and songs, and he rapidly became the best known Russian composer. ( Listen to ClassicFm’s fast guide here It seems to me that I am truly gifted with the ability truthfully, sincerely, and simply to express the feelings, moods, and images suggested by a text. In this sense I am a realist and fundamentally a Russian. - Tchaikovsky (Opera101)

Whose Onegin?

The composer resisted, then swiftly adopted the idea of an opera from Pushkin’s poem. The interesting question is why did he resist? His version is a very simple story with an ending fitting his own depression, but unlikely to please romantic audiences (it didn’t, and Tchaikovsky changed it twice.) Not popular in his lifetime, it’s now credited with being the perfect opera – so what’s changed? Onegin has everything: breathtaking music, heartrending poetry, and the drama of passionate characters who live and breathe as we do. Like an apparition from the past,
once heard this beautiful opera haunts our dreams.  (Oliver Mears of Scottish Opera) But it doesn’t have Pushkin’s irony and wit – compare to the original here.

Leitmotif Russian style

Tchaikovsky advances a leitmotif-like structure spanning outward from Tatyana’s Letter Scene, the centrepiece of the opera. This isn’t Wagner by any means but you’ll hear the same recurring themes throughout, ever shifting towards the final climactic duet. (Opera101) Tchaikovsky’s deep sympathy for his heroine Tatyana is shown in the tenderness of her music. Her yearning string motif opens the opera and it gains full expression in her letter aria in Act I – one of the most intense solo scenes ever written for the soprano voice. (ROH)

Our Productions

Met 2013 - Mariusz Kweizen took over the title role from the seriously ill Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Review.   ROH production which came to Melbourne. Reviews for and against.

The social commentary

“Thus heaven’s gift to us is this:/ That habit takes the place of bliss.” Tatyana’s mother’s aria comes straight from Pushkin. The isolation and the constraints of their estate life contrast with the self-indulgent, bored words of Onegin, come from ‘society’ to the country. At a time when other Russian composers were preoccupied with grand, public opera plots that drew from Russian history and mythology, Tchaikovsky took the risk of moving in the opposite direction – into the intimate, private world of Eugene Onegin…Tchaikovsky shaped Onegin’s public scenes so that a perceptive audience could see the alienation of the leading characters from the outside world. Their inner life unfolds instead in domestic spaces and intimate settings. But even here, away from the public eye, out of earshot of the gossip-mongers, life is still circumscribed by social convention. Marina Frolova- Walker