Opera: Eugen Onegin – Peter Ilyitch Tschaikowsky

“Eugen Onégin,” a grand opera in three acts, the text by M. Kashkin, after Pushkin’s novel, and the music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikowsky, was first produced in St. Petersburg in May, 1877.

CHARACTERS

Larina, owner of a country estate. Tatjana, Olga, her daughters. Filipjewna, a nurse. Eugen Onégin. Lenski. Prince Gremin. Head servant. Saretzki. Triquet, a Frenchman. Gillot, a waiting-man (silent). County people, ball guests, landed proprietors, officers. The time is the second decade of the Nineteenth Century.

The opening act reveals Larina in the garden of her estate, attending to household affairs with the help of the old nurse, Filipjewna. Within the house Larina’s daughters, Tatjana and Olga, are singing. Their songs arouse memories of her own early romance with a young officer, a romance ended by the marriage arranged for her by her parents against her own wishes. She has found relief from her woe in the routine of her country home.

The peasants flock upon the scene for the harvest dance and are graciously received and feasted by Larina. One feature of the merrymaking is the dancing of the maidens with a sheaf fantastically dressed as a person. The daughters of the house come out upon the terrace to enjoy the fun. Olga is gay and practical; Tatjana is a dreamer, who revels in books of romance. Her mother warns her that there are no heroes in real life.

Some excitement is aroused in the household by the arrival of Olga’s lover, Lenski, and his friend and neighbor, Eugen Onégin. Larina welcomes the stranger and intro duces her daughters. Tatjana at once falls in love with him and tells her sister that she has seen him in her dreams. Larina excuses herself to oversee the servants and Onégin and Tatjana are left together. Onégin treats the girl with cool courtliness. She tells him how she spends her time reading and dreaming in the garden and he admits that he, himself, was once like that.

When night falls the four young people are invited in to supper. Tatjana is in a waking dream. The nurse follows, solicitously, watching her.

The next scene is played in Tatjana’s apartment. The girl stands at the mirror in deep thought. She complains of wakefulness and Filipjewna tries to entertain her with a story. After dismissing the nurse, Tatjana remains in deep meditation for a while and at last resolves to write a letter to Onégin declaring her love. Having written the letter several times, she seals it and throws back the curtains, letting in the daylight. The nurse enters to call her, and Tatjana with much telltale confusion bids her send her son to Onégin with the letter. Her agitation so frightens the nurse that she hesitates about leaving her alone.

In the next scene, another part of Larina’s garden is shown, where girls are picking berries. Tatj ana throws herself breathless upon a bench, her agitation arising from the approach of Onégin, whom she receives with drooping head. Onégin is cold and quiet. He tells her that he will be as frank as she was and that he loves her as a brother would. He adds that he was not born for happiness and that Hymen would bring them only sorrow.

The second act shows a brilliantly lighted apartment in Larina’s house, where a ball is in progress. Onégin and Tatjana, Lenski and Olga dance. The older women comment upon Onégin, calling him uncouth, uneducated, a gambler and a freemason. He overhears and declares that to be misjudged serves him right for wasting his time at a ball. He blames Lenski for bringing him and decides to flirt with Olga. Lenski claims that she has promised a certain dance to him but Onégin carries her off and Lenski’s jealousy is aroused. He reproaches Olga and, when Onégin asks for another dance, she grants it to punish her lover. A quarrel follows, then an insult and a challenge. The duel is fought the next morning, Onégin bringing his serving-man, Gillot, as his second. The terrified Gillot, from behind a tree, sees his master kill Lenski.

The third act discloses a hall in the palace of Prince Gremin, in St. Petersburg, where a fashionable company is assembled. The hostess, Princess Gremina, once Tatjana, is now a brilliant, distinguished woman of the world. Onégin is there after years of conscience-stricken wandering. He is presented to Tatjana, who meets him coldly and excuses herself on the plea of fatigue.

The second act shows the Princess in rich morning-dress in her apartments. Onégin enters and throws himself at her feet. Consumed with love, he beseeches her to give herself to him. But, although Tatjana cannot conceal the fact that she still loves him, she remains true to her husband, who has made her rich and distinguished and, saying ” Fare-well forever,” leaves the scene.