Tchaikovsky wrote Eugene Onegin in 1878, using a libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky and himself, based on the epic poem by Alexander Pushkin. The composer was first drawn to the project by the famous “letter scene” (Act One, Scene Two), in which Tatyana declares her affections for Onegin. Tchaikovsky provided music for this scene—at least the latter part of it—first and built the rest of the work around it, ultimately producing his most popular opera.
If the libretto supplies many opportunities for dramatic scenes, Tchaikovsky’s music certainly rises to almost every occasion. As Tatyana writes the letter, for instance, the music suggests her innocence, and seems to convey the act of writing, as well: the oboe singing an animated and typically Tchaikovskian motif, with the clarinet, flute, and horn providing subtle commentary, invokes a feeling of both intimacy and action, a private venting of one’s thoughts and passions. Tatyana is given a beautiful and moving theme here, and the whole scene is set afire emotionally. Near the end a horn motif appears, which permeates much of the opera, serving as a sort of motto theme.
The aria preceding the duel is another highlight of the opera. In fact, the music is probably more attractive than that of Onegin, a character Tchaikovsky rather despised. That is one reason he made Tatyana the central figure in the opera, despite Onegin’s protagonist status in Pushkin’s poem. There is a fair amount of excellent folk-inspired music here, all, however, in the first act. The first chorus and chorus of the girls collecting berries, as well as the Dance of the Reapers, are all fine examples. It should be noted that Tchaikovsky added an ecossaise for the penultimate scene in the opera in 1885.
Is an opera in three acts with music by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. The libretto was written by Konstantin Shilovsky, the composer and his brother Modest Tchaikovsky, based on the epic poem by Alexander Pushkin.
Eugene Onegin is young, intelligent, handsome, wealthy, well educated, and thoroughly bored by his hopelessly meaningless life.
Madame Larina is the mother of Tatyana and Olga.
Tatyana is a naïve girl, bookish and romantic, who becomes a refined lady of exquisite grace and sadness.
Olga, Tatyana’s sister and Lensky’s betrothed, is a featherbrained flirt.
Lensky, Onegin’s friend, is a young hothead and would-be Romantic poet.
Prince Gremin is a retired old army general who weds Tatyana.
Triquet, Tatyana’s tutor, is an absurd but kind old Frenchman.
Zaretsky, Mme. Larina’s another neighbor, is the local expert on the rules of dueling.
Act 2: Waltz
A party is underway in Madame Larina’s house for Tatyana’s name day. Young couples dance, while older guests comment and gossip. Onegin dances with Tatyana, but he is bored by these country people and their provincial ways. Annoyed with Lensky for having dragged him there, Onegin dances with Olga, who is momentarily distracted by the charming man. Monsieur Triquet, the French tutor, serenades Tatyana with a song he has written in her honor. When the dancing resumes, Lensky jealously confronts Onegin. Madame Larina begs the men not to quarrel in her house, but Lensky cannot be placated, and Onegin accepts his challenge to a duel.
Lensky waits for Onegin at the appointed spot at dawn. Lensky reflects on the folly of his brief life and imagines Olga visiting his grave. Onegin finally arrives. He and Lensky admit to themselves that the duel is pointless and they would prefer to laugh together than to fight, but honor must be satisfied. The duel is marked off, and Onegin shoots Lensky dead.
Eugene Onegin (opera), Op.24, Act 2 – Scene 1, Waltz
Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra
Antal Dorati, Conductor