Onegin ROH Covent Garden 8 October




So now after having had the opera Eugene Onegin with the dances removed I tried John Cranko’s 1965 ballet Onegin.  This followed the story of the opera rather than Pushkin’s original.  The narrator, who is the main character in the original, would surely be rather difficult to represent in a ballet, but I think that the bears and assorted monsters from Tatyana’s Dream (as long as they got out from behind that damned table) would be naturals.

Anyway, we had the opera Eugene Onegin done as a ballet, but with the wrong music (still by Tchaikovsky), which was strange!  In fact there were three strange things about it:  it was the wrong music; a lot of it was pretty Tchaikovsky rather than overwrought Tchaikovsky; and since the extracts came from different works there was obviously no motivic consistency and it all seemed rather arbitrary.

The passages that worked best for me were where there was most deviation from the opera and so there was some freedom–for instance, when Tatyana and Olga tried to separate Onegin and Lensky before the duel.   But then in the duel itself Onegin just strode forward and shot Lensky, which makes no sense if you know the original.  There, Onegin, who comes from a much higher social class than Lensky and is an experienced duellist has no intention of shooting at Lensky until Lensky actually and incompetently takes aim and tries to shoot him, at which Onegin crossly thinks That twit could have hurt me , shoots, and fatally wounds him.  That tells you rather a lot about Onegin, and productions of the opera tend to preserve the same action.

The most effective scene was surely the final showdown between Tatyana and Onegin, where (on the one hand) the competition from the opera wasn’t so strong, (on the other) you got some proper overwrought Tchaikovsky in the form of Francesca da Rimini and (to be fair) the choreography was fresh and inventive as well.

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