ONEGIN’S PATH FROM PAGE TO STAGE: A Study of Tchaikovsky’s Transposition of Pushkin’s Novel in Verse into Novel in Music

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University of Arizona
For all the popularity it enjoys today, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin did not meet with universal acceptance when it premiered in its entirety in March of 1879. Tchaikovsky himself wrote: “...there was heavy applause only after Gremin’s aria and Triquet’s couplets.” “In place of the accustomed bravado ensemble, the first scene ended with nanny’s recitative...The audience stared uncomprehendingly at the dropping curtain, thinking that it was a mistake.” In an 1881 article in the journal Artiste, the critic Kruglikov protested “...but to take plots from the modern life of the cultured class, to put a modern society parlor in an opera is, to me, risky beyond compare. Ordinary waistcoats and tails on the operatic stage?! A general in dress uniform invited to the footlights to sing a tender bass aria? – I cannot reconcile myself with all this!” The writer Turgenev, in a letter to Tolstoy about the opera, complained that he “did not care for the libretto, in which Pushkin’s verses describing the actors are put into the mouths of the actors themselves.” Indeed, even the detractors acknowledged the exquisiteness of the music, but musical beauty was not Tchaikovsky’s only goal in creating this work. An examination of the many factors that influenced the creation and further development of this work reveals that what Tchaikovsky intended to create was his own distinct interpretation of Pushkin’s masterpiece. In it, he intended to convey the powerful influence of Pushkin’s verse over his own creative spirit, while simultaneously revealing deeply felt personal opinions about the nature and potential of its enduring heroes.
Opera, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy
Pendergast, John M., "Onegin's Path from Page to Stage: A Study of Tchaikovsky’s Transposition of Pushkin’s Novel in Verse into Novel in Music" (2002).