Opera Scotland

Eugene Onegin Yevgeny Onegin

Music
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (born Kamsko-Votkinsk, 7 May 1840; died St Petersburg, 6 November 1893)

Text
The composer and K S Shilovsky.

Source
Poem (1831) by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837).

Premières
First performance: Moscow (Maly Theatre, Imperial College of Music), 29 March 1879.
First UK performance: London (Olympic Theatre), 17 October 1892.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 7 November 1906.
Scottish Opera première: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 1 September 1979.

Background
Tchaikovsky composed Onegin quite early in his career and it was first performed by a cast of students at the Moscow Conservatoire. His choice of subject, an acknowledged classic of Russian literature, was quite controversial at the time, and there has always been a view that his treatment fails to do Pushkin’s great poem justice. However that is frequently a difficulty when first-rate literature is converted to opera, and Onegin, taken on its own terms, deservedly remains one of the most popular Russian operas.

Main Characters
Madame Larina, a widowed landowner (mezzo-soprano)
Tatyana, her daughter (soprano)
Olga, Tatyana’s sister (mezzo-soprano)
Filippyevna, their nurse (contralto)
Vladimir Lensky, a neighbour, betrothed to Olga (tenor)
Eugene Onegin, his friend (baritone)
Monsieur Triquet, tutor to the sisters (tenor)
Zaretsky, an officer (bass)
Prince Gremin (bass)

Plot Summary
It is autumn on the Larins’ estate and the serfs are completing the harvest. Madame Larina and Filippyevna are preserving fruit for the winter, while Tatyana and Olga sing and read novels. Their neighbour Lensky, engaged to Olga, arrives with his friend Onegin. In spite of his reserve, Tatyana falls for him to the extent that she writes him a letter expressing her love. The next day Onegin gives her a curt dismissal.

A few weeks later, guests assemble for an evening party to celebrate Tatyana’s name day. All goes well, with old Monsieur Triquet singing a song in honour of his pupil, and everyone joining in a set of country-dances. However Onegin, out of a sense of boredom, flirts with Olga and arouses Lensky’s furious jealousy. At dawn the next morning they fight a duel and Onegin shoots Lensky dead.

The final act occurs several years later, in Moscow, at a grand ball in Prince Gremin’s palace. Onegin has returned from travelling abroad, and the elderly prince, a distant relation, explains to him how wonderfully happy he has been since he married his young wife. The princess appears, beautiful, elegant, and self-possessed, and Onegin is stunned to recognise Tatyana. Her greeting to him is cool and correct. The following morning Onegin calls on her to declare his love. While Tatyana admits that she has never forgotten him, she now dismisses him. Onegin resolves that only death is left.

RECORDINGS

PHILIPS (2 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1993

Conductor: Semyon Bychkov
Paris Orchestra
Nuccia Focile (Tatyana), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Onegin), Neil Shicoff (Lensky),

Semyon Bychkov conducts in a flowing and dramatic style and the cast assembled is consistently good. Hvorostovsky was recorded early in his international career, but seems to be a natural for the part. Nuccia Focile is a very attractive Tatyana and Neil Shicoff, in his second recording of Lensky sings very movingly. In the smaller roles a galaxy of stars has been assembled, with Olga Borodina as Olga, Sarah Walker as Larina, and a veteran Russian mezzo, Irina Arkhipova, as Filippyevna. The Irish tenor Francis Egerton makes a lovely cameo of old Monsieur Triquet. This is a role he sang for many years both at Covent Garden and with Scottish Opera, so it is good to have it preserved.

MELODIYA (2 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1955

Conductor: Boris Khaikin,
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra
Galina Vishnevskaya (Tatyana), Evgeni Belov (Onegin), Sergei Lemeshev (Lensky),

This set is undoubtedly a classic by any standards, and but for the age of the recording it would be the top recommendation. Boris Khaikin’s conducting is masterly, beautifully lyrical, but highly dramatic when required, and the orchestra and chorus sound unmistakably Russian, perhaps an odd comment to make, but just listen to them. Galina Vishnevskaya is caught in her freshest voice. Evgeni Belov is good as Onegin. But the real revelation in this performance is the strange, plangent sound of the tenor Sergei Lemeshev, again unmistakably Russian, and not common even there. His performance is uniquely moving.

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1974

Conductor: Georg Solti
Orchestra of Royal Opera House
Teresa Kubiak (Tatyana), Bernd Weikl (Onegin), Stuart Burrows (Lensky),

Covent Garden forces give a good account of themselves under Solti, and the recording is vivid. The leads are Russian-speaking East Europeans, a Polish Tatyana, East German Onegin, and Bulgarian Gremin (the wonderful Nicolai Ghiaurov). In this company the British singers also do well, not just Stuart Burrows as Lensky, but Anna Reynolds, a favourite with Scottish Opera, as Larina, and Enid Hartle as the nurse.

SONY (2 bargain-price CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1988

Conductor: Emil Tchakarov Sofia Festival Orchestra Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Tatyana), Yuri Masurok (Onegin), Nicolai Gedda (Lensky).

This recording is good value and features excellent performances, especially by the peerless Nicolai Gedda and the leading Bolshoi baritone Masurok. Given their age at the time, they sound astonishing.

The Cast

Eugene Onegin
 Lensky's friend
Filipyevna
 nurse to the sisters
Guillot
 Onegin's manservant
Madame Larina
 a widowed landowner
Monsieur Triquet
 a Frenchman, tutor to the sisters
Olga
 Larina's younger daughter
Peasant
 
Prince Gremin
 a retired general
Tatyana
 Larina's elder daughter
Trifon Petrovich
 a captain
Vladimir Lensky
 a neighbour, engaged to Olga
Zaretsky
 a retired officer

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