Monday, December 2, 2019

Listen now to our Eugene Onegin podcast

Production photo: Eugene Onegin, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, 2017. Photo by Cory Weaver.
Curious to learn more about Tchaikovsky's masterpiece, Eugene Onegin(FYI, this Russian last name is pronounced “oh-NYAY-ghin,” where the “G” is like “goose”). In this recent podcast by Seattle Opera, the company's in-house dramaturg Jonathan Dean says try focusing on the journey through romance and poetry, rather than on a happily-ever-after ending. 

"You don't have to understand Russian to understand the heartsick sigh of love's longing that opens this opera," Dean says. "That's what Eugene Onegin does so well: it delivers a story in this wonderfully tender and intimate way. The story gives us the real experience of love, translated into music: the excitement, the frustration, the bliss, the bitterness—all the passion. Love does not work out for the protagonists of this opera. But Eugene Onegin is not a tragedy; it's too close to life for that. And if you're wary of operas that are real or relatable, if you go to the opera to escape into a richer, more vivid world—fear not! Eugene Onegin is also a gloriously entertaining romantic opera on a grand scale.”

In this podcast, you can learn about how Tchaikovsky was leery of grand opera when he composed Onegin in 1877. According to Dean:  

“The composer had just returned from a tour in Western Europe that took him to the world premiere of Wagner’s Ring. He didn’t like it. He was also fed up with Verdi, whose Aida was conquering the world at the time. Tchaikovsky found these extravagant and exotic opera subjects overblown and unrelatable. He wanted a story about ordinary, everyday domestic life. Thus, he turned to one of the ubiquitous works of Russian literature, Pushkin’s famous novel in verse Eugene Onegin, written half a century earlier. Pushkin is to Russian what Shakespeare is to English. And to this day, virtually every Russian studies this amazing poem in school. Its plot, which is also the plot of the opera, is simple: A young man kills his best friend and wastes his one shot at true love. It’s a straightforward story with extraordinarily rich and complex characters.”

For more, tune in to the Seattle Opera podcast episode: Eugene Onegin 101

The Seattle Opera Podcast is for everyone. Are you an opera newbie (or maybe need a refresher)? Check out the SO’s opera 101 lessons. These short and entertaining overviews of the SO’s operas are a great place to start. Already an opera fan? Check out episodes that take a deeper dive into the operas. This podcast is a co-production of Seattle Opera and KING FM. Subscribe on iTunesEugene Onegin plays Jan. 11–25, 2020 at McCaw Hall.

Left: "The duel between Onegin and Lensky" by Ilya Efimovich Repin, 1899. Right: Eugene Onegin, the opera, premiered in 1879 at the Maly Theatre in Moscow, Russia. Photo by Anton Novoderezhkin.