World premiere: Bolshoi theatre, Moscow, Russia
Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Choreography: John Cranko
Sets and Costumes: Jürgen Rose
Choreographic supervision: Reid Anderson
Ballet Masters: Agneta Valcu, Victor Valcu
Lighting Designer: Steen Bjarke
Music Director: Pavel Sorokin
Rights owner: Dieter Graefe
Arrangement and Orchestration: Kurt-Heinz Stolze
The score has been made available by Adrian Thome Musikverlag, Munich
Ballet "Onegin" is an adaptation of the verse novel Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin set to music by Tchaikovsky (mainly The Seasons) orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze.
John Cranko first had the idea for a ballet based on Alexander Pushkin‘s verse novel when he choreographed dances for Tchaikovky’s opera Eugene Onegin in 1952. He pitched this to the ROH board at Covent Garden but it was rejected. After a string of successful pieces for Sadler’s Wells Ballet (Pineapple Poll 1951, The Lady and the Fool 1956 and The Prince of Pagodas, 1957), Cranko left London for Stuttgart. There he created one of the most successful ballet adaptations of Romeo & Juliet (1962) and confirmed his flair for dramatic narrative, in the same vein as his contemporary and close friend Kenneth MacMillan (whose own choreographic language would be influenced by Cranko’s).
In Stuttgart he received full support from Walter Erich Schafer – General Manager of the opera and dance companies – to revisit his Onegin project, with the caveat that the opera score should not be used. Instead it fell to Kurt-Heinze Stolze, ballet Kapellmeister, to assemble various little known Tchaikovsky pieces into a ballet score. Cranko developed a libretto closely following the novel and the ballet premiered 13 April 1965 with Marcia Haydee as Tatiana and Ray Barra as Onegin. Forty five years on, Onegin is considered Cranko’s definitive masterpiece and remains in the repertory of over 20 ballet companies around the world. At the time of its premiere Onegin was hailed a success with audiences and performers, but there was some controversy with opera purists and other personalities (for instance George Balanchine) who did not approve of the opera score having been discarded.
Between 1965 and 1967 Cranko revised Onegin several times. He scrapped the original ending of Tatiana kissing her children good night, as this lessened the drama of her last encounter with Onegin. He also removed the prologue where Onegin was seen at his uncle’s deathbed, and had the score re-edited accordingly. The version we are now familiar with was first performed by Stuttgart Ballet in October 1967.
Madame Larina’s Garden
Madame Larina, Olga and the nurse are finishing the party dresses and gossiping about Tatiana’s upcoming birthday festivities. Madame Larina speculates on the future and reminisces about her own lost beauty and youth.
Lensky, a young poet engaged to Olga, arrives with a friend from St. Petersburg. He introduces Onegin, who, bored with the city, has come to see if the country can offer him any distraction. Tatiana, full of youthful and romantic fantasies, falls in love with the elegant stranger, so different from the country people she knows. Onegin, on the other hand, sees in Tatiana only a naive country girl who reads too many romantic novels.
Tatiana, her imagination aflame with impetuous first-love, dreams of Onegin and writes him a passionate love letter, which she gives to her nurse to deliver.
The provincial gentry have come to celebrate Tatiana’s birthday. They gossip about Lensky’s infatuation with Olga and whisper prophecies of a dawning romance between Tatiana and the newcomer. Onegin finds the company boring. Stifling his yawns, he finds it difficult to be civil to them; furthermore he is irritated by Tatiana’s letter which he regards merely as an outburst of adolescent love. In a quiet moment, he seeks out Tatiana and, telling her that he cannot love her, tears up the letter. Tatiana’s distress, instead of awakening pity, merely increases his irritation.
Prince Gremin, a distant relation, appears. He is in love with Tatiana and Madame Larina hopes for a brilliant match but Tatiana, troubled with her own heart, hardly notices her kindly, older relation.
Onegin, in his boredom, decides to provoke Lensky by flirting with Olga who light-heartedly joins in his teasing. But Lensky takes the matter with passionate seriousness. He challenges Onegin to a duel.
Tatiana and Olga try to reason with Lensky but his high romantic ideals are shattered by the betrayal of his friend and the fickleness of his beloved; he insists that the duel take place. Onegin kills his friend and for the first time his cold heart is moved by the horror of his deed. Tatiana realizes that her love was an illusion and that Onegin is self-centred and empty.
Onegin, having travelled the world for many years in an attempt to escape his own futility, returns to St. Petersburg where he is received at a ball in the palace of Prince Gremin. Gremin has recently married and Onegin is astonished to recognize in the stately and elegant young princess, Tatiana, the uninteresting little country girl whom he once turned away. The enormity of his mistake and loss engulfs him. His life now seems even more aimless and empty.
Tatiana reads a letter from Onegin, which reveals his love for her. Suddenly he stands before her, impatient to know her answer. Tatiana sorrowfully tells him that although she still feels her passionate girlhood love for him, she is now a woman and she could never find happiness with him or have respect for him. She orders him to leave her forever.
1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
4/2 Teatralnaya ploschad (4/2 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia