My Year of Opera: Eugene Onegin

Saturday I went to the Met HD broadcast for Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. I knew nothing about the opera going in and never really thought about Tchaikovsky’s opera output. I knew he did Queen of Spades but that was about it. When I started being exposed to opera during my undergrad, one thing that I didn’t like was its (seemingly) lack of musical cohesion. I was coming from a background of instrumental music which works very differently than opera. I wanted things to be stitched together from a musical perspective and just didn’t think that happened in opera. Wagner seemed to be okay with it but otherwise it seemed like there was little holding all the music together.

Of course, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what opera does, how vocal music works, and an unfair bar to set for any musical composition. Give Past Jay a break; he was an idiot.* Now I just show up to see what a piece does and I’m mostly pleasantly surprised at how good it is.

Anyhow, I say all this because Tchaikovsky was able to merge his instrumental instincts into an opera without beating me over the head with leitmotifs. There was one descending eighth-note motive that bound the music together without being pedantic and overwrought. The man knew drama, storytelling, and pacing, after all. I was astounded at how well the music (and performance) captured the immature infatuation of Tatiana in Act 1. That “letter scene” hit all the right spots; we’ve all been 16 and So Madly In Love that we Do Something Rash. Nowadays, Tatiana would have sat up all night and Facebook-stalked Onegin. Fortunately for us she is more poetic than a normal 16 year old.

For the record, I didn’t think that Onegin came across as that much of an asshole at the end of Act 1 as I think he was supposed to. It seemed like a rather firm “Thanks but no thanks” without being really cruel. Cruelty was saved for Act 2, of course, where Onegin becomes another example of my “If you have an opera named after you your life sucks out loud” theory.* The final act of the opera was rather low stakes, to be honest, but musically worked really well. Onegin is a bit of a putz but it isn’t like he was Don Giovanni or Faust or anything. The opera seemed to be more about Tatiana anyway; she is the soprano after all.

I would love to go see The Nose in a few weeks but I’ll be on the road. I’m really bummed about that. I have decided to make October “Faust Month” for My Year of Opera. I finished watching Gounod last night and will blog about it soon. I’m also planning on watching Mefistofele, The┬áRake’s Progress, and La Damnation de Faust (which isn’t really an opera, I know, but I’m going to watch it anyway). If only there was a video of Schnittke’s Faust opera…

*Current Jay is also an idiot too but lacks the historical body of evidence to prove it.

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