Eugene Onegin
BY Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s intense score thrills with glorious melodies and rich orchestration, making this the must-see event of the season.

Eugene-miniFrom Pushkin’s classic poem comes Tchaikovsky’s theatrical magnum opus. Onegin is a man egotistical enough to turn his back on love and a gun on his best friend.  Set in St. Petersburg and the snowy Russian countryside, this new production features David Adam Moore in the title role, whose gritty interpretation promises to be riveting.

 

Photography courtesy of Des Moines Metro Opera
Illustration courtesy of Emiliano Ponzi

Eugene Onegin

Act 1

Scene 1: The garden of the Larin country estate

Madame Larina and the nurse Filippyevna are sitting outside in a garden. They can hear Madame Larina’s two daughters, Tatyana and her younger sister Olga, singing a love song. Madame Larina begins to reminisce about her own courtship and marriage. A group of peasants enter and celebrate the harvest with songs and dances while Tatyana and Olga watch. Tatyana has been reading a romantic novel and is absorbed by the story; the carefree Olga, however, wishes to join in the celebration. Tatyana is cautioned by her mother that reality is very different from the novels she so loves.

Filippyevna announces that visitors have arrived: Olga’s fiancé Lensky, a young poet, and his friend Eugene Onegin, who is visiting from St Petersburg. The pair is shown inside and Lensky introduces Onegin to the family. Onegin is initially surprised that Lensky has chosen the extroverted Olga rather than her more subtle elder sister as his fiancée. Upon meeting Onegin, Tatyana develops an instantaneous and intense attraction to the visitor. Meanwhile, Lensky expresses his delight at seeing Olga and she responds flirtatiously. Onegin tells Tatyana of his boredom in the country and describes the death of his uncle and his subsequent inheritance of a nearby estate. Watching their interactions, Filippyevna recognizes that Onegin has had a profound effect on Tatyana.

Scene 2: Tatyana’s room

Tatyana is dressed for bed. Restless and unable to sleep, she asks Filippyevna to tell her about her youth and early marriage. Tatyana then confesses that she is in love. Left alone, Tatyana pours out her feelings in a letter to Onegin. She tells him that she loves him and firmly believes she will never have such ardent feelings for anyone else.  She begs him to understand and help her. A shepherd’s pipe is heard in the distance, heralding the dawn as Tatyana finished writing the letter. Filippyevna enters the room to wake Tatyana, who persuades the nurse to send her grandson to deliver the letter to Onegin.

Scene 3: Another part of the estate

Servant girls are singing as they pick fruit. Tatyana waits anxiously for Onegin’s arrival. Onegin enters and gives Tatyana an answer to her letter. He gently explains that he is not a man who loves easily and that he is unsuited to marriage. Unworthy of her love, he can only offer her brotherly affection. He cautions Tatyana to be less emotionally open in future. The voices of the servant girls singing are heard again. Tatyana, crushed, is unable to reply.

Act 2

Scene 1: The ballroom of the Larin house

It is Tatyana’s name day and a ball is being given in her honor. Onegin is dancing with her. He grows irritated with a group of neighbours who gossip about the two of them, and with Lensky, who persuaded him to come to the ball in the first place. Out of annoyance, Onegin decides to avenge himself by dancing and flirting with Olga. Lensky is flabbergasted and becomes extremely jealous. He confronts Olga, who believes she has done nothing wrong and tells Lensky not to be ridiculous. Onegin asks Olga to dance with him again and she agrees as “punishment” for Lensky’s jealousy. The elderly French tutor, Monsieur Triquet, sings some couplets in honour of Tatyana. When the singing has ceased, the quarrel between Lensky and Onegin becomes more intense. Lensky renounces his friendship with Onegin in front of all the guests, and challenges him to a duel. Onegin, though filled with misgivings, is forced to accept the challenge. Tatyana collapses as the ball ends in confusion.

Scene 2: On the banks of a wooded stream, early morning

Lensky is waiting for Onegin with his second Zaretsky. Lensky reflects on his life, his fear of death, and his love for Olga. Onegin arrives with his manservant Guillot. Both Lensky and Onegin are reluctant to proceed with the duel, aware of the senselessness of their sudden enmity. It is too late, however: Neither man has the courage to stop the duel. Zaretsky gives them the signal and Onegin shoots Lensky dead.

Act 3

Scene 1: The house of a rich nobleman in St Petersburg

Years have passed, during which time Onegin has travelled extensively around Europe. Standing alone at a ball, he reflects on the emptiness of his life and his remorse over the death of Lensky. Prince Gremin enters with Tatyana, his wife, who is now a grand, aristocratic beauty. She is greeted by many of the guests with great deference. Onegin is taken aback when he sees Tatyana, and deeply impressed by her beauty and noble bearing. Tatyana, in turn, is overwhelmed with emotion when she recognizes him. Gremin tells Onegin about his great happiness and love for Tatyana, and re-introduces Onegin to his wife. Onegin, suddenly injected with new life, realizes that he is in love with Tatyana. He determines to write to her and arrange a meeting.

Scene 2: A room in Prince Gremin’s house

Tatyana has received Onegin’s letter, which has disturbed her by stirring up the passion she felt for him as a young girl. Onegin enters. Tatyana recalls her earlier feelings and asks why Onegin is pursuing her now. Is it because of her social position? Onegin denies any cynical motivation: his passion is genuine and overwhelming. Tatyana, moved to tears, reflects on how near they once were to happiness, but nevertheless asks him to leave. Onegin asks her to have pity. Tatyana admits she still loves Onegin, but asserts that their union can never be realized, as she is now married, and determined to remain faithful to her husband despite her true feelings. Onegin implores her to relent, but she bids him farewell forever, leaving him alone to despair.

 

Role Artist Date
Conductor Steven White
Stage Director Tara Faircloth
Eugene Onegin David Adam Moore January 31, February 1, 6 & 8
Eugene Onegin Chris Carr February 7
Tatiana Corinne Winters
Lenski Zach Borichevsky
Olga Beth Lytwynec
Prince Gremin Nicholas Masters
Madame Larina Robynne Redmon
Filipievna Susan Shafer
Monsieur Triquet Andrew Penning
Zaretski Calvin Griffin

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka, Russia. His collective body of works constitutes 169 pieces, including symphonies, operas, ballets, concertos, cantatas and songs. Among his most famed late works are the ballets The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892).

At the age of 5, Tchaikovsky began taking piano lessons. Although he displayed an early passion for music, his parents hoped that he would grow up to work in the civil service. When he turned 10, Tchaikovsky began attending the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, a boarding school in St. Petersburg. In order to honor his parents’ wishes, in 1859 Tchaikovsky took up the post of bureau clerk within the Ministry of Justice for the next four years. During his time as a clerk, he became increasingly fascinated with music.

In 1861, at the age of 21, Tchaikovsky decided to take music lessons at the Russian Musical Society. A few months later, he enrolled at the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory, becoming one of the school’s first composition students. In addition to learning while at the conservatory, Tchaikovsky gave private lessons to other students. In 1863, he moved to Moscow, where he became a professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky’s first public performance took plane in 1865, with Johann Strauss the Younger conducting Tchaikovsky’s Characteristic Dances at a Pavlovsk concert. One year later, Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony was well-received when it was publicly performed in Moscow. However, his first opera, The Voyevoda, was met with little fanfare when it reached the stage.

After giving up on The Voyevoda, Tchaikovsky repurposed some of its material to compose his next opera, Oprichnik, which achieved some acclaim when it was performed at the Maryinsky in St. Petersburg in 1874. That same year, his opera Vakula the Smith received harsh critical reviews, though his Second Symphony was extremely well-received. Despite the failures of The Voyevoda and Vakula the Smith, Tchaikovsky managed to firmly establish himself as a talented composer of instrumental pieces after his Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor.

Success and acclaim came readily for Tchaikovsky starting in 1875 with his composition Symphony No. 3 in D Major. In 1876, he completed the ballet Swan Lake as well as the fantasy Francesca da Rimini. Two years later, he resigned from the Moscow Conservatory to focus his efforts entirely on composing, spending the remainder of his career composing more prolifically than ever. Tchaikovsky could afford to resign from the Moscow Conservatory thanks to the patronage of a wealthy widow named Nadezhda von Meck. For almost a decade and a half, she provided him with a monthly allowance. Oddly, their arrangement, which lasted until Tchaikovsky’s death, stipulated that they would never meet.

Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893. The cause of his death was officially declared to be the result of a cholera infection, though some have speculated he may have committed suicide.