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Composer: Piotr Czajkowski
Libretto by Peter Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Shilovsky after Alexander Pushkin
Original language version, with Polish surtitles
World premiere: Maly Theatre, Moscow, 29 March 1879
Polish premiere: Grand Theatre, Warsaw, 4 May 1899
Premiere at the Krakow Opera: 10 December 2010
Director and Costume Designer: Michał Znaniecki
Music Director: Łukasz Borowicz
Set Designer: Luigi Scoglio
Choreographer: Diana Theocharidis
Lighting Designer: Bogumił Palewicz
Choir Master: Marek Kluza
Assistant: Zofia Dowjat
Director’s Assistant: Dagmar Bilińska
Costume Designer's Assistant: Joanna Medyńska
Music Director’s Assistants: Sebastian Perłowski, Tadeusz Płatek
Choreographer’s Assistant: Elena Korpusenko
Stage Managers: Agnieszka Sztencel, Magdalena Wąsowska
Prompter: Krystyna Behounek, Dorota Sawka
SOLOISTS, KRAKOW OPERA ORCHESTRA, CHOIR and BALLET
Tchaikovsky described his romantic opera, based on Pushkin`s novel in verse of the same title, as lyrical scenes, underscoring the poetic nature of the work. The directors of this staging have followed the same path; without highlighting any realistic details, they have conjured up a poetic, lyrical tale of lost illusions, of time which heals all wounds but also takes one ever farther away from the excitements of youth, strips all the characters in the story of their dreams and frustrates their desires. Metaphoric images, based on the motif of melting ice, seem to complement the poignant music, vibrating with passions, expressing yearning, sadness and regret.
While Tatyana and Olga are singing a melancholy song in two voices, their mother, Madame Larina, and their nanny, Filipyevna, are reminiscing upon the joys of youth. Fortunately, “in place of happiness, heaven sends us the consolation of habit,” the two elderly women sigh. Peasants coming back from the field salute the lady of the manor, and then proceed to sing and dance to cheer her up. The joyful scene moves Tatyana profoundly, but Olga finds her melancholy poses rather comical (Olga’s aria). Tatyana is shaken by the romantic novel she is currently reading, which inclines her mother to mock her warmheartedly. She read her share of this nonsense in her young days as well, but with time she understood that such heroes were nowhere to be found in real life... But here come some guests: their neighbour, Lensky, a young handsome poet, in love with Olga, this time accompanied by a friend. The newcomer is an elegant young man named Eugene Onegin, who has just inherited one of the neighbouring estates. Tatyana suddenly feels that the man of her dreams is standing before her (quartet); Lensky professes his ardent feelings for the flippant Olga once again (Lensky’s arioso).
Tonight Tatyana is not going to sleep a wink. Unable to still her racing heart, she asks Filipyevna to share her memories of her own love affairs – but what can be the memories of a nanny who was married off at thirteen to an even younger Vanyushka! Disappointed with the story, which she has hardly listened to anyway, Tatyana confesses that she is in love. She requests a pen, ink and paper; she wishes to be alone as she is going to spend the rest of the night writing the most beautiful love letter in the history of opera (the letter scene). When the sun comes up, she will send Filipyevna’s grandson with the letter to Onegin.
Girls are picking fruit in the Larins’ orchard. Tatyana rushes in, short of breath, all agitated because this is where Onegin has set their meeting. The young man finally arrives himself, whereupon he proceeds to teach the naive provincial girl a cruel lesson, under the appearance of self-criticism. His words “I am not worthy of you” hurt Tatyana worse than if he said outright “I don’t care about you one bit” (Onegin’s aria). Crushed, Tatyana gets up, offers Onegin her arm, and they walk away together, a model example of dignified good manners.
Madame Larina gives a ball to celebrate Tatyana’s name-day. Onegin dances with the latter, and shows irritation caused by the rumours of their imminent marriage coming from all quarters. He decides to take revenge on Lensky, who dragged him in here, by courting his fiancée Olga, sufficiently naive and reckless to succumb to his seduction. These ominous games are briefly interrupted by a performance by Monsieur Triquet, a French sponger residing in the neighbourhood, starting to sing the couplets that he has composed in honour of Tatyana (En cette fete). And when a mazurka begins to play, Onegin takes Olga over from Lensky as they dance, asking him provokingly about the cause of his bad humour. But Lensky is hardly amused by these jokes, which the dandy – engrossed in his own egotism – is unable to grasp. The playful games soon take on a dramatic turn as Onegin fails to find the right words to assuage Lensky’s displeasure, and the latter loses his temper. Enraged, he finally challenges Onegin to a duel. “Such scandal at our home!” Madame Larina cries out in despair, a sentiment which Lensky picks up on, reminiscing on the heavenly moments he has spent under this roof beside Olga (concertato). Onegin and Lensky begin to exchange invectives; they need to be separated before they go at each other with fists. Olga tries to stop Lensky but it is already too late.
Early at dawn, Lensky awaits his adversary on a snow-covered meadow. Full of bad premonitions, he ponders his lost youth and love for Olga (Lensky’s aria). Finally, Onegin arrives, late. The passions have subsided, yet not enough to make the young men come to their senses. Onegin fires the first shot and Lensky drops dead.
A few years have passed. At a grand ball in St. Petersburg, fine society is dancing a polonaise. One of the guests is Onegin, who has travelled all around the world trying to forget the terrible thing he did. His attention is captured by a majestic beauty traversing the salons with dignity. This is Princess Gremina, in whom the astounded Onegin recognizes... Tatyana. She has recognized him too, and can hardly control the upsurge of emotion. Her husband, Prince Gremin, confides in Onegin how much he loves his wife (Gremin’s aria). Having exchanged some polite clichés with Onegin, Tatyana leaves the ballroom using the pretext of sudden fatigue, while Onegin has the feeling of the ground crumbling under his feet (arioso) as the guests continue to gyrate around him in a cheerful ecossaise.
Tatyana has received another letter from Onegin, which again shakes her inmost soul. What’s worse, the author has brought the letter himself and is now prostrate at her feet. Neither her righteous poses nor turning her eyes away to remember her marital obligations will be of any avail. Tatyana still loves this man, who is now aiming at her the most tender words, drawn from the letter she once wrote him, which he read so inattentively back then. Losing control of herself, Tatyana confesses her feelings and they both weep over what could have been but is never meant to be. There is no return: Tatyana tears herself out of Onegin’s embrace in order to run away, and the only thing left for him to do is to curse his pitiful lot.
Piotr Kamiński, Tysiąc i jedna opera (A Thousand and One Operas), PWM, 2008