Opera reveals Tchaikovsky’s many moods

Eugene Onegin HD Live from the Met will show Saturday, April 22 at 9:55 a.m. at the Salmar Classic

Eugene Onegin HD Live from the Met will run Saturday, April 22 at 9:55 a.m. at the Salmar Classic Theatre.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) enjoyed tremendous fame during his lifetime as a composer of symphonic music and ballets. Think of his ballet music for The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. His operas have achieved a steadily growing popularity outside of Russia. The composer himself largely put the libretto for Eugene Onegin together, with help from his brother Modest and others. The source of the libretto is the verse novel of the same name by Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837), whose position in Russian literature can be compared only to that of Shakespeare in English.

Pushkin presents a vast overview of old Russian society around 1820. Tchaikovsky’s original score neatly divides this overview into three acts—the timeless rituals of country life, the rural gentry with its troubles and pleasures and finally, the glittering imperial aristocracy of St. Petersburg. The Met’s production places the action in the later 19th century, around the time of the opera’s premiere.

Tchaikovsky’s setting of Pushkin’s timeless work is presented on the Met stage in Deborah Warner’s moving production, starring soprano Anna Netrebko as Tatiana and baritone Peter Mattei as Onegin. Tenor Alexey Dolgov is Lenski, mezzo Elena Maximova is Olga and bass Stefan Kocan sings Prince Gremin. The opera is conducted by Robin Ticciati.

The opera premiered in a student performance in Moscow in 1879,with its professional premiere at the Bolshoi Theater in 1881. Tchaikovsky’s many moods—tender, grand, melancholy—are all given free rein in Eugene Onegin. Pushkin’s novel re-imagines the Byronic romantic anti-hero as the definitive bored Russian aristocrat caught between convention and ennui. Tchaikovsky, similarly, took Western European operatic forms and transformed them into an authentic and undeniably Russian work.

At the core of the opera is the young girl Tatiana, who grows from a sentimental adolescent into a complete woman in one of the operatic stage’s most convincing character developments. She moves from the pangs of first and rejected love (the famous letter aria), to family troubles that include a duel and emerges as a dutiful and loyal wife to Prince Gremin. Onegin does not experience the same growth of character and realizes his love for Tatiana only when he has lost her.