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Subject: Re: "Eugene Onegin" question
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Mon, 15 Jan 2018 11:21:29 -0500

text/plain (88 lines)

Dennis asks: 
“I pulled into the garage just as the late la Juntwaite was remarking that Oneg
Onegin "tragically learns too late."  Which prompts my question to all of you:
you:  DOES HE?  

Yes.  And no.  

Tchaikovsky captures the elements of Pushkin’s romance in an original, and 
illustrative way, which encapsulates and intensifies the tale in a way only 
music is capable of doing.  The title character is a difficult one to pull off:  
unlikeable, self-centered, yet when portrayed correctly, we discover 
someone not so much cruel as he is merely bored, suffering, as it were, 
from an ennui bordering on depression.  When finally awakened – or 
or “cured,” if you will – it is too late, and therein lies the “tragedy.”  

It’s often argued that Onegin never learns his lesson, how a narcissist 
cannot change, etc.  BUT, and this may not work for everyone, if we listen 
to what the text and the responsive, sympathetic music Tchaikovsky gives 
him, I see an argument he HAS learned something.  A cruel, self-absorbed 
monster, we now hear a new Onegin singing to music of near feverish 
nature how, daily, he’s haunted by Lenski’s ghost, we feel his self-recrimination and humiliation at his previous treatment of Tatyana and feel also how his formerly dormant heart is finally stirring.  In today
recrimination and humiliation at his previous treatment of Tatyana and feel 
also how his formerly dormant heart is finally stirring.  In today’s pop 
culture we’d say “he got woke.”  

There is, I believe, “tragedy” in that the love between Tatyana and Onegin wa
was never meant to be realized.  While he begs her to leave, she remains fi
firm in her commitment to her husband, knowing she will always burn for On

The opera comes full circle when we revisit the words of Filipyevna and 
Madame Larina, Tatyana’s mother revealing how she while loved one man, 
married another, almost leaving him to follow her passion.  “Heaven gives 
us habit/routine, in place of happiness.”  

* * * * 

Mr. Youngman mentions George London's performances in an unfortunate 
English translation.  While I agree (though not fond of the translation, 
happy to have a Onegin from then at all), I don’t think Mr. London had 
much of a chance given the Met’s history with Tchaikovsky's opera.  

The first performances (1920) were in Italian translation and the work was 
not heard there again until 1957, when it was presented for Mr. London.  
The first performances in Russian would wait another twenty years, when 
in 1977 it was given with Sherill Milnes, Teresa Zylis-Gara and Nicolai Gedda
Gedda under James Levine.  Of that event, Mike Sullivan, for the AP stated 
while it deserved being heard, outside of Russia it will never become an 
operatic standard as “it simply doesn't pack the theatrical punch that Verdi 
and Puccini, for example, bring to many equally silly plots.”   One can only 
laugh a little today, when, checking on Operabase we can see over several 
seasons (2016-2018) 747 performances of 198 productions, in 109 cities.  

Onegin has become such a beloved opera, one has to wonder how and why 
the tides have turned for it since those initial Met performances.  Being 
sung in Italian, in an English speaking country probably didn’t help its 
cause, nor did reviews like James Gibbons Huneker' for The New York 
World, wrote as much of Muzio’s size as he did of the rest of the show.  

“The bedroom is dainty, but that bed was surely never intended for the 
robust Claudia Muzio; rather it is suited for the tiny twinkletoes of the only 
Galli, called Rosina . . . looked too massive, too well-fed for a love-lorn 
lass, and she was very much en negligee till the last scene, where she wore 
a flamboyant Empire gown too high-shouldered to be becoming.  

(Conductor) Mr. Bodanzky did not linger over the syrupy music, for which 
Apollo be praised! The score is of a linked sweetness, long drawn out, but 
the conductor's vivacious baton and spirited tempi made the music seem 
better than it is . . . after her letter aria Muzio was recalled and bouquets 
abounded. It was all so delightfully transparent and old-fashioned. Henry James would have described the evening as 
James would have described the evening as ‘abysmally entertaining.’"

I love how much a part of our culture Eugene Onegin has become!


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