Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (2007)

Last night I watched this, the seventh of the series being streamed by the New York Metropolitan Opera, and I cannot say that I enjoyed it that much, nowhere near any of the five previous operas that I watched the past week.

Act I clocked in at 75 minutes, almost half of the total time and I found it really dragged. It featured a long solo by Tatiana as she writes a letter to her sister Olga’s fiancé Lenski’s friend Onegin whom she had just met and fallen immediately in love with, something that commonly happens in operas. But the jaded and cynical Onegin condescendingly scorns her love, saying that he would be bored by marriage, and returns the letter to her.

The action picked up a bit in Act II at a ball where Onegin, once again bored and irritated by Lenski for bringing him along to the event, deliberately flirts with Olga just to annoy Lenski. A jealous and angry Lenski challenges him to a duel, an utterly ridiculous honor ritual that for some inexplicable reason seemed to be popular with members of the elite social classes of that time. Lenski is killed.

Act III takes place much later when at yet another ball Onegin, just returned from a long period of travel, sees Tatiana who is now married to a wealthy prince and is a member of the highest society. He writes her a letter, pouring out his heart to her and that he loves her. He then goes to see her, hoping to win her back. Tatiana is suspicious that he sees her differently now merely because she is wealthy and of high rank as a princess. She now turns the tables on him and says that although she loves him, it is not so much that she will forsake her husband. She then gives him back his letter and leaves him. It was satisfying to see the heroine, rather than dying of a broken heart because of her love for him or giving in to the entreaties of one who treated her so badly in the past and even killed her sister’s fiancé, instead give him his comeuppance and tell him to buzz off. Commenter Bethany may be on to something about women dying in operas.

My lack of enjoyment for this opera was not helped by the fact that the set for this production was so stark, consisting of three high blank walls with the stage bare for every scene except for a few chairs for the indoors or leaves on the ground for the outdoors. With some largely bare sets, you can still convey the impression of complexity but this one made you feel that you were looking at a large prison cell, it was so cold and oppressive. You can see it in this scene from the first act when Onegin gives Tatiana back her letter.

This is not an opera that I will watch again. But the duel reminded me of this sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

Also this scene from Love and Death.

The next seven days will be all Wagner which I will skip. The schedule for the following week is not yet posted.


  1. mnb0 says

    I warned you …..
    If you watch and listen to Evgenij Onegin for the action you only can be disappointed. Tatiana’s letter scene is very famous and loved by fans like me.
    Still, 75 minutes for the first act sounds like a drag indeed. My CD, recorded in the USSR (couldn’t find the year) by Bolshoi opera and orchestra, “only” takes 69.;

  2. mnb0 says

    If you want action I recommend you (besides Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov) Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa. The main character (in fact even a more unpleasant character) doesn’t die this time and the heroine (who is sympathetic but naive) suffers an even worse fate than death. The real hero dies though. “Eduard Napravnik, the conductor of the St. Petersburg premiere and an inveterate complainer, nevertheless caught the opera’s special quality when he bemoaned its way of ‘heaping scene upon scene, each more horrible than the last: enmity, betrayal, torture, execution, murder and madness -- there is nowhere for the listener to relax'”.. (Richard Tarushkin)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *