Libretto by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Shilovsky
after the poetic novel of the same name by Alexander Pushkin
A new Eugene Onegin for the new Mariinsky Theatre.
The Mariinsky Theatre has turned once again to Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin: stage director Alexei Stepanyuk, set designer Alexander Orlov and costume designer Irina Cherednikova will be presenting their stage version of the composer’s “lyrical scenes”. Both premiere performances will be conducted by Valery Gergiev.
The new production will be the eighth since the world premiere of Onegin at the Imperial St Petersburg Opera in 1884. In 1879 Onegin was staged at the Moscow Conservatoire featuring students, and only came to the stage in St Petersburg five years afterwards. Himself an ardent fan of Eugene Onegin, Emperor Alexander III campaigned for a production of the opera in the imperial capital. Roughly one year after the premiere, Director of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg Ivan Vsevolozhsky asked the composer to provide a sketch for a second ball (in Act III). In the revised version of the music, the opera was first performed on 19 September 1885. Eduard Francevič Nápravník was the conductor and musical director of the premieres of productions in 1884 and 1900.
Ever since, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin has been a unique “record-breaker” in terms of the number of performances at the Mariinsky Theatre: 1892 saw the one hundredth performance since the premiere, 1924 marked forty years since the Mariinsky Theatre premiere, the number of performances by that time having passed four hundred and fifty, and 17 January 2014 saw the one thousand, five hundred and fifty-fourth performance.
Onegin at the Mariinsky Theatre has seen performances by Emilia Pavlovskaya, Medea Figner, Maria Slavina, Nikolai Figner, Leonid Sobinov, Nikolai Pechkovsky and Fyodor Chaliapin, while Larisa Shevchenko, Tatiana Novikova, Larisa Diadkova, Yuri Marusin, Sergei Leiferkus and Boris Shtokolov appeared in the 1982 production, followed by Irina Mataeva, Vladimir Moroz, Alexei Markov, Yevgeny Nikitin, Yevgeny Akimov, Daniil Shtoda and Mikhail Kit in the 2002 version.
The opera was frequently staged in the soviet era: in 1920, when at the insistence of the conductor Emil Cooper the opera was staged using the first version of the score; in 1929, when the production team including the conductor Alexander Gauk, designer Vladimir Dmitriev and the stage director Emmanuil Kaplan dropped certain “empty spaces” from the score in order to give the “production rhythm all the way through”; and in the first post-siege season in 1945 under the musical direction of Boris Khaikin. The historic theatre building currently hosts performances of the production by Yuri Temirkanov, who stunned contemporaries in 1982 with the new and “warm human manner” in which he revealed Onegin’s character.
The director of the new production Alexei Stepanyuk, who has already staged Rodion Shchedrin’s opera The Lefthander at the Mariinsky II with the designers Alexander Orlov and Irina Cherednikova, wants “young people to be able to see themselves in the opera.” He explains that “Here there is a dual situation: so much changes with time – our manners, lexis, language and behaviour all change, but the essence of humanity remains the same. So, on the one hand, I want the production to contain pure Russian language, manners, the etiquette and nuances of the era of Pushkin. On the other hand, it is very important that the opera is not some kind of ‘guide’, it has to be psychologically convincing and all the characters – starting with Onegin and ending with Zaretsky and the Captain – have to be real people.”
This version is a co-production together with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The Beijing premiere takes place on 14 March.
The lead roles in the production will be performed by young singers including Anna Barkhatova, Maria Bayankina, Gelena Gaskarova, Yekaterina Goncharova and Tatiana Ryaguzova (Tatiana), Yulia Matochkina, Yekaterina Sergeyeva and Irina Shishkova (Olga), Andrei Bondarenko, Grigory Chernetsov, Dmitry Garbovsky and Dmitry Lavrov (Eugene Onegin), Yevgeny Akhmedov, Ilya Selivanov and Alexander Trofimov (Lensky) and Askar Abdrazakov, Ilya Bannik and Edward Tsanga (Gremin). Larisa Gergieva is responsible for the musical preparation of the premiere.
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 but her mother tells her that real life is different. Visitors arrive: Olga’s fiancйe 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 fiancй 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 will remain faithful to her husband. Onegin implores her, but she finally leaves him alone in his despair.