Performed in Russian
Libretto by Peter Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Shilovsky
after the poetic novel of the same name by Alexander Pushkin
•World premiere: 17th March, 1879, Maly Theatre, Moscow
•Premiere of this production: 14th August, 2002, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Eugene Onegin (Yevgeny Onegin in transliteration) is an opera in three acts by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to a Russian libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky and the composer, based on the novel of the same name by Aleksandr Pushkin.
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.