Evgenij Onegin, Opera by P. I. Tchaikovsky
Evgenij Onegin – or Eugene Onegin in its better-known English variant – is the quintessential Russian opera experience. Based on the novel in verse of the same title by the great Alexander Pushkin, the performance glows with the unbridled emotionality of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, possibly the most romantic of the Romantic composers. Even though the composer hesitated to begin such a massive project, the two Russian artists’ works turned out to be a match made in heaven. Commencing work in 1877, Tchaikovsky crafted the libretto himself, basing it almost entirely on direct quotes from Pushkin’s original text. Rather than aiming for a coherent plot, the composer extracted the novel’s milestones instead, resulting in a series of powerful dramatic scenes. Rome’s Teatro Costanzi burns with the passion of the endlessly deep Russian soul.
Eugene Onegin follows the escapades of its titular character, a vain and proud nobleman who carelessly rejects the pure love at first sight of Tatyana, the young daughter of a family friend. Self-absorption and misplaced jealousy lead Onegin to act increasingly hostile to his friend Lensky, eventually leading the two into a foolish and tragic duel. How, if at all, will Eugene Onegin recover from the consequences of his foolhardy and grandstanding ways? And is Tatyana’s love lost for good?
Tchaikovsky tackled the story of Eugene Onegin with his characteristic sensitivity. Dubbing the work a collection of lyrical scenes, the Russian composer put the fickle and capricious nature of the main character into some of his most evocative melodies. The famous overture’s descending opening theme already hints at Onegin’s downward spiral. Eugene Onegin’s debut at Moscow’s Maly Theatre on 29 March 1879 was a rousing success that eventually brought the opera to Bolshoi Theatre on 23 January 1881. From there, Russia and the rest of Europe quickly fell in love with Tchaikovsky’s musical adaptation of the Pushkin classic, and audiences at the Rome Opera House will surely understand why.