Sunday, August 16, 2009

From Russia, with love

Peter Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, based on the great Pushkin poem, will reach the Aotea Centre on the 15th of September (dress rehearsal) and open on the 17th of September for a season of five performances, and then open in The St James in Wellington on the10th of October. Of the ten operas Tchaikovsky wrote, this one is, without doubt, the most famous.

Act 1 The young sisters, Tatyana and Olga, are together in their home and while their mother, Madame Larina listens at first to the two singing, she and Tatyana’s nurse Filipievna soon join in. A chorus of reapers arrives singing a sort of folk song and present Madame Larina with flowers.

Tatyana is immersed in thoughts of far-off regions that the songs have inspired whist Olga says she has no time for such dreams and that the music does nothing but make her want to dance. Then Lensky, Olga’s fiancé, accompanied by his friend Onegin arrive at the home. Meeting as any young lovers would Olga and Lensky engage in conversation while Onegin and Tatyana get to know each other. Tatyana realises that there is a growing affection for Onegin and before the end of the first act she writes a letter expressing her love. This is delivered to Onegin. He, however, does not share her feelings. Love and marriage are not for him, he loves her as would a brother but no more than that. The curtain falls on act one.

Act2 A ball to celebrate Tatyana’s birthday is in progress. A guest is none other than Onegin who dances with her which engenders ill natured gossip amongst some of the guests who do not view Onegin kindly. Bored with the whole event Onegin turns on his friend Lensky and steals a dance with Olga that she had promised to her fiancé Lensky.

A diversion softens the tense situation when the old French tutor Triquet sings a charming song which he dedicates to Tatyana. A dance is announced and Onegin further infuriates Lensky by continuing to dance with Olga. Able to stand the situation no longer Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel.

Great consternation arises from all the guests and Onegin, in an ensemble that follows, bitterly regrets his behaviour towards his friend but realises that the affair has gone too far and the duel will take place in the morning.

Deep remorse is in Lensky's heart, as, in the chill of the early morning, he prepares for what he seems to know will be his death. Onegin arrives, late, and in a dispute over the matter of a second (a duel cannot take place without a second) Onegin introduces his servant as an appropriate second and the two go off to discuss the conditions of the duel. The bleak music and the dead-pan nervousness highlight the situation. The pistols are raised and fired and Lensky is killed.

Act 3 Years have passed and we are now in St Petersburg, with an elegant ball in progress at a fine mansion, the home of Prince Gremin, a close friend of the Tsar. The atmosphere is in considerable contrast to the rather folksy occasion in Madame Larina’s house at the commencement of the opera. Onegin is present after having spent years in the ‘wilderness’ to atone for the death of his friend. Prince Gremin arrives with his wife who is none other than Tatyana. In a ‘show-stopping aria’ Prince Gremin tells Onegin of the great happiness the beauty and love of Tatyana has brought him (English translation of the first line (‘To love all ages must surrender’).

Soon Tatyana leaves the room and the final scene has Onegin recalling their earlier times and he realises that he is hopelessly in love with Tatyana. But she is the wife of Prince Gremin and will remain honourable to him. The final parting comes with Tatyana leaving the room and leaving Onegin totally distraught as the curtain falls on a great opera and a great piece of Russian poetry. Running time is about 2hrs 30mins

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