Music with Ease > Other 19th Century Opera (Russian, English, Czech, etc.) > Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky) - Synopsis
Eugene Onegin - Synopsis
An Opera by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky
Opera in three acts; music by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (also spelt as Peter Ilitsch Tschaikowsky); text after Pushkins tale by Modeste Tchaikovsky, the composers brother; German text by von A. Bernhard. Produced at Moscow, March, 1879.
LARINA, who owns an estate
TATIANA, one of her daughters
OLGA, one of her daughters
FILIPIEVNA, a waitress
TRIQUET, a Frenchman
As the characterization of the opera as "lyrical scenes" shows, the poet offers no substantial work, but follows closely, often even word for word, Pushkins epic tale, with which one must be fully acquainted -- as is the case with everybody in Russia -- in order to be able to follow the opera properly.
Act I. Eugene Onegin has been called from a wild life of pleasure to his sick uncle, of whose property he takes possession after the uncles sudden death. He has brought with him from the big city a profound satiety of all enjoyments and a deep contempt for the society of mankind in his solitary country seat. Here, however, he forms a friendship for a young fanatic, the poet Lenski. Through him he is introduced to Larina, a woman who owns an estate. Her two daughters, Olga and Tatiana, correspond to the double nature of their mother, whose youth was a period of sentimentality in which she allowed herself to be affected like others by Richardsons novels, raved over Grandison, and followed the wild adventures of Lovelace with anxious thrills. Life later had made her rational, altogether too rational and insipid. Olga now has become a cheerful, superficial, pleasureful silly young girl; Tatiana, a dreamer whose melancholy is increasing through reading books which her mother had once used. Lenski is betrothed to Olga. Tatiana recognizes at her first sight of Onegin the realization of her dreams. Her heart goes out to meet him and in her enthusiasm she reveals all her feelings in a letter to him. Onegin is deeply stirred by this love; a feeling of confidence in mankind that he had not known for such a long time awakens in him. But he knows himself too well. He knows that every faculty as a husband is departing from him. And now he considers it his duty not to disappoint this maiden soul, to be frank. He refuses her love. He takes the blame on himself, but he would not have been the worldly wise man if his superiority to the simple country child had not been emphasized chiefly on this account. But Tatiana only listens to the refusal, she is very unhappy. Onegin remains her ideal, who now will be still more solitary, in spite of it.
Act II. Tatianas name-day is being celebrated with a big hall. Onegin goes there on Lenskis invitation. The stupid company with their narrow views about him vex him so much that he seeks to revenge himself on Lenski for it, for which he begins courting Olga. Lenski takes the jest in earnest; it comes to a quarrel between the friends Lenski rushes out and sends Onegin a challenge. Social considerations force Onegin to accept the challenge; a dueling fanatic landlord, Saretsky stirs Lenskis anger so severely that a reconciliation is not possible. This part in Pushkins work is the keenest satire, an extraordinarily efficacious mockery of the whole subject of dueling. There is derision on Onegins side, too, for he chooses as his second his coachman Gillot. But the duel was terribly in earnest; Lenski falls, shot through by his opponents bullet. (This scene recalls a sad experience of the poet himself; for he himself fell in a duel by the bullet of a supercilious courtier, Georg dAnthès-Heckeren, who died in Alsace in 1895).
Act III. Twenty-six years later. Onegin has restlessly wandered over the world. Now he is in St. Petersburg at a ball given by Prince Gremin. There, if he sees aright, Princess Gremina, that accomplished woman of the world is "his" Tatiana. Now his passion is aroused in all its strength. He must win her. Tatiana does not love him with the same ardour as before. When she upbraids Onegin that he loves her only because has now become a brilliant woman of the world it is only a means of deceiving herself and her impetuous adorer as to her real feelings. But finally her true feeling is revealed. She tells Onegin that she loves him as before. But at the same time she explains that she will remain true to her duty as a wife. Broken-hearted Onegin leaves her.