Lyrical scenes in 3 acts and 7 tableaux, Op. 24 (1877–78).
Tchaikovsky's original score contains an introduction and 22 individual numbers. The three acts are further divided into seven scenes. The titles of numbers in Russian (Cyrillic) are taken from the published score, with English translations added in bold type. Vocal incipits are given in the right-hand column, with transliterations below in italics. The numbering, titles and tempo are taken from the second edition of the full score (published in 1891).
The action takes place in western Russia and in Saint Petersburg during the 1820s.
Act I. In the garden of the Larin country estate (Scene 1), Mrs Larina reminisces about her youth with the nurse Filippyevna, while her daughters Tatyana and Olga sing duets. The peasants have gathered in the harvest, and dance to amuse their mistress. Olga’s suitor, Lensky, brings his friend Onegin. Later (Scene 2), Tatyana asks her nurse about her marriage. She writes a passionate letter to Onegin, declaring her love for him, which the nurse agrees to deliver. The following morning Onegin meets Tatyana in another part of the Larins’ garden. He coolly rejects her letter, telling her he was not meant to marry.
Act II. Tatyana’s name-day ball is in progress in the main reception room of the Larin house (Scene 1). At Lensky’s insistence, Onegin attends, but when he hears people gossiping about him, he takes revenge on Lensky by flirting with Olga. Lensky angrily confronts Onegin, and challenges him to a duel. Reluctantly, Onegin agrees. Next morning at a rustic water mill on the banks of the wooded stream (Scene 2), Lensky awaits Onegin’s arrival, and wonders whether Olga will shed a tear if he dies. Both Lensky and Onegin regret the events of the previous night, but neither man will back down. The duel takes place, and Onegin shoots Lensky dead.
Act III. Many years have elapsed, and Onegin is still bored with life. In the ballroom of a nobleman’s house in Saint Petersburg (Scene 1), he encounters Tatyana, who is now married to Prince Gremin. Tatyana’s transformation from a naive country girl to a dazzling grande dame captivates him. In the drawing room of Prince Gremin’s house (Scene 2), Tatyana meets Onegin, and accuses him of loving her now only because she is rich and famous. She still loves him, but is determined to be faithful to Gremin, and does not yield to her passion. She dismisses Onegin, who is now a broken man.
The Tchaikovsky Handbook, vol. 1 (2002), p. 38
During 1876 and the first few months of 1877 Tchaikovsky had been looking for a subject for a new opera: "On this road my next planned stop is an opera, and […] I will go my way without letting myself be put off" . In the spring of 1877, a subject was finally found. On 18/30 May the composer wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "Last week I happened to be visiting Lavrovskaya. The conversation turned on subjects for an opera. Her stupid husband kept talking nonsense and suggesting the most impossible subjects. Liz[aveta] Andr[eyevna] remained silent and smiled good-humouredly all along until she suddenly said: 'How about using "Yevgeny Onegin"?' This idea struck me as quite preposterous, and I did not say anything in reply. Later, when I was on my own having dinner at an inn, I remembered Onegin and fell to thinking—Lavrovskaya's idea started to seem feasible to me, very soon I was quite carried away by it, and by the end of my dinner I had made my mind up. I rushed off at once to get hold of a copy of Pushkin. Having found one with some difficulty, I headed for home, re-read it enthusiastically, and I spent an utterly sleepless night, the result of which was a scenario for a delightful opera with words by Pushkin. The following day, I went off to visit Shilovsky, and he is now working full steam ahead on trimming up my scenario . Here's a summary of this scenario: Act I. Scene 1. The curtain rises to show old Mme Larina and the nurse recollecting the past and making jam. Duet of the old women. Singing can be heard coming from the house. It is Tatyana and Olga, who, accompanied by a harp, are singing a duet to words by Zhukovsky . Peasants appear with the last sheaf of corn, singing and dancing. Suddenly the boy-servant announces: "Guests!". Great commotion. Yevgeny and Lensky walk in. The ceremony of introduction and bringing in of refreshments (lingo berry water). Yevgeny tells Lensky his impressions, the women likewise to one another: quintet à la Mozart. The old women leave to prepare the supper. The young people stay behind to go for a stroll in pairs. They take turns (as in Faust ). Tatyana is shy at first, but then she falls in love. Scene 2. Scene with the nurse and Tatyana's letter. Scene 3. The scene of Onegin's frank discussion with Tanya. Act II. Sc[ene] 1. Tatyana's name-day party. A ball. The scene of Lensky's jealousy. He insults Onegin and challenges him to a duel. General consternation. Sc[ene] 2. Lensky's aria before death and the duel with pistols. Act III. Sc[ene] 1. Moscow. A ball at the Assembly [of the Nobility]. Tanya has to meet a whole bevy of aunts and cousins. They sing a chorus. The general appears. He falls in love with Tatyana. She tells him her story and agrees to marry him. Sc[ene] 2. In Petersburg. Tatyana is waiting for Onegin. He appears. A tremendous duet. After his declaration Tatyana begins to succumb to her love for Yevgeny and struggles. He implores her. Her husband turns up. Duty prevails. Onegin runs away in despair" .
In the composer's personal library at the Klin House-Museum there is a volume of Pushkin's works containing the novel in verse Yevgeny Onegin. On the margins of the book's pages one can still see the notes which the composer made while drawing up the libretto, including an adaptation of the text of Tatyana's scene with the nurse and Lensky's aria from Scene 5. The descriptions of the principal characters are marked off in pencil.
In a series of letters written by Tchaikovsky we find striking descriptions of the protagonists of his opera. By comparing these statements with the notes in the book it is possible to carry out an interesting analysis of the composer's work on the libretto .
What Tchaikovsky found attractive in this subject was the opportunity to "convey through music everyday, simple, universally human emotions, far removed from anything tragic or theatrical" . "You cannot imagine how crazy I am about this subject," he wrote to his brother Modest; "How glad I am to be free of Egyptian princesses, pharaohs, poisonings, and stilted effects of all kinds. What a mine of poetry there is in Onegin" . "I am ever so keen to set about working on my opera," the composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck; "I have instructed Shilovsky to draw up a libretto for me which is taken from Pushkin's poema  Yevgeny Onegin! A bold idea, isn't it?! Those few people to whom I have spoken about my intention to write an opera with this subject were at first surprised at my proposition, but then they would go into raptures over it. This opera will, of course, be without any strong dramatic action, but on the other hand it will have an interesting everyday life aspect to it, and, moreover, just think how much poetry there is in all this! The scene alone between Tatyana and her nurse is priceless!… Pushkin's text will act on me in a most inspiring fashion" .
By 9/21 June Tchaikovsky had made sketches for Scene 2 in Act I (Tatyana's scene with her nurse) and most of Scene 1. In a letter informing his brother Modest about this the composer wrote: "I got your letter yesterday, dear Modya. At first your criticisms about my having chosen Onegin made me angry, but that was only for an instant. Even if my opera is not stage-worthy, even if it has little action to offer, the point is that I am in love with the image of Tatyana; I am enchanted by Pushkin's verses and am writing music to them because that's what I want to do. I am completely absorbed in the composition of my opera" .
On 15/27 June, he wrote: "I have divided up my day in the most regular manner; I am working very thoroughly at fixed hours, and, since there is nothing whatsoever that stops me from getting down to my work, the opera is going very well. The whole first act in three scenes is already finished, and today I've started work on the second […] You can criticize Yevgeny Onegin as much as you like, but I must say that I am writing my music with great pleasure and I know for sure that the poetic quality of the subject and the ineffable beauty of the text will hold their own" . "…I have spent a whole month in Glebovo in complete calm and happiness, and I have written two thirds of my opera there," Tchaikovsky would later inform his brother Modest on 5/17 July 1877 .
After that there was an interruption of two months in the writing of the opera . The composer resumed work on it in Kamenka; by 27 August/8 September he had completed the orchestration of Scene 1 in Act I and immediately made a piano arrangement of it .
In September, Tchaikovsky fell ill and went abroad in early/mid October , travelling to Clarens, where he soon resumed work on the opera . In Clarens he completed the orchestration of Act I  .
Tchaikovsky was aware of the innovative nature of his opera and thought that Yevgeny Onegin, due to its lack of stage effects and "as it is insufficiently lively and interesting for it to be to the public's liking", would "never become established as a staple of the opera repertoire in major theatres" . He set very high artistic demands regarding an eventual staging of his opera. They are stated most fully in his letter to Karl Albrecht of 3/15 December 1877: "This is what I need for Onegin: 1) singers of medium quality, but they must have been drilled well and should be reliable; 2) singers, who will also be able to act simply but well; 3) the staging doesn't have to be lavish but it must be strictly in keeping with the period; the costumes must absolutely be from the period in which the opera's action takes place (the 1820s); 4) the choruses should not be like a herd of sheep, as is the case on the stage of the Imperial theatres—rather, they must be people who really are participating in the plot of the opera; 5) the conductor must be […] a true leader of the orchestra" . In the opera-houses at the time conventionalism and routine very much held sway. The composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "… the more I think about the performance of this opera, the more I am convinced that it is impossible, i.e. a performance which would correspond to my dreams and intentions" . "How Pushkin's charming picture will be debased when it is transferred onto the stage, with all its routine, with its senseless traditions…" . That is why Tchaikovsky did not want to start negotiations for a staging of Yevgeny Onegin in the [Imperial] theatres. "I would much rather hand over this opera for the stage of the Conservatory, and in fact this is what I actually wish to do. For there at least we won't have that banal routine of the official theatres […] Besides, the Conservatory gives its performances as private events, as it were, en petit comité. That is more suitable for my modest work, which I will not even call an opera if it is ever published. I will call it lyrical scenes or something like that" .
After completing the orchestration of Act I of the opera Tchaikovsky sent it to Nikolay Rubinstein, requesting him to stage this act together with Scene 1 of Act II in a production at the Conservatory . "… I think that in a meticulous staging, with a level of performance such as we have been seeing [at the Conservatory] so far, this opera, with its wonderful text, simple human emotions and situations, definitely ought to produce a poetic effect" . In a letter of 10/22 November Tchaikovsky writes to Rubinstein with details on how the roles were to be allocated .
On 16/28 November, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck from Venice: "… I have set about furiously finishing the orchestration of Scene 1 in Act II of Onegin (Act 1 and Scene 1 of Act II have to be ready as soon as possible, so that I can send them to Moscow, where in all likelihood they are to be staged at Conservatory performances). My work has come along very well, so that already today I have finished the whole orchestration. I just have to add the voice parts, place marks, and make a piano arrangement" . The following date is indicated at the end of the manuscript of the score for Scene 1 of Act II: "Venice, 28 (16) November 1877".
In December Tchaikovsky was engrossed in orchestrating his Fourth Symphony, which he had almost always worked on at the same time as his opera.
In San Remo, on 2/14 January 1878, the composer began orchestrating Act III of the opera. Tchaikovsky's letters do not provide any information on when he made the sketches for Act III. It is possible that part of the music for Act III had already been written in Glebovo ("I have written a large proportion of Onegin in Glebovo", he wrote to his brother Modest on 8/20 July 1877) . The remaining sketches were written by Tchaikovsky abroad, at the same time as he orchestrated the opera .
On 5/17 January, the composer wrote to his brother Anatoly: "… I have managed to get a lot done—amongst other things, I spent one-and-a-half hours orchestrating your favourite aria: 'To love all ages are obedient' (Любви все возрасты покорны)" .
On 14/26 January: "Today I have completed the orchestration of Act III of the opera. Now I just have to finish off in rough Scene 2 of Act II and write an introduction…" 
On 16/28 January: "After breakfast I picked up some music paper and set off for the mountains alone in order to finish the Duel scene, which is still not fully composed. With difficulty I managed to find a spot where there was nobody else. My work went well" 
On 17/29 January: "My work is going splendidly, and I have now started on the last difficult part of the opera, that is the introduction" 
On 18/30 January: "I have just finished the introduction. There are at most two weeks or so of work left for me to do" 
On 20 January/1 February: "Today, at last, I have finished writing and orchestrating right up to the very end. All that remains to be done is to make a piano arrangement of everything that I have written afresh—in short, this means a week's work, no more" 
On 25 January/6 February: "Today I have started work on the piano reduction of the opera" 
On 28 January/9 February: "I have finished the piano reduction. Now all that's left to do is to put down all the marks and make a fair copy of the libretto. Then the opera will be fully complete. What will its fate be?!" 
On 3/15 February, Tchaikovsky informed Karl Albrecht that the day before he had dispatched to Nikolay Rubinstein: "1) a microscopic introduction to come before Act I; 2) Scene 2 of Act II; 3) Act III." In this very same letter he requested Albrecht to ask Sergey Taneyev if he could "alter anything in the piano reduction that strikes him as un-piano like, inconvenient or difficult to play" and also to "ask Samarin to read through the libretto carefully […] and correct in the stage directions anything that he considers to be silly, inconvenient, awkward etc. I also want him to pay particular attention to the final verse. For the sake of musical and theatrical demands I was forced to dramatize rather strongly the scene of Tatyana's discussion with Onegin. At the end, as I have it, Tatyana's husband appears and with a gesture orders Onegin away. Whilst this happens I had to have Onegin say something, and so I put the following verse into his mouth: 'O death, o death! I go to seek thee out!' I cannot help thinking all the time that this is silly and that he ought to be saying something else. But I just can't think up what! So I'm asking I[van] V[asilyevich] to do me an inestimable service and help me out of this difficulty" 
This final line for Onegin was later replaced by the words: "Disgrace! Anguish! O how pitiable is my fate!" 
On 4/16 February 1878, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "Now the piano reduction is complete, and I would be immensely glad if you were able to arrange for it to be engraved in the near future. This opera, so it seems to me, is more likely to be successful in homes and on concert stages than on the grand stage, and that is why the fact that its score will be published long before it enters the repertoire of the major theatres is not at all unfavourable. The success of this opera must begin from below, rather than from above. That is, it is not the theatre that will make it known to the public, but, on the contrary, the public, by becoming acquainted with it little by little, may come to love this opera, and then the theatre can stage it in order to satisfy the public's need" 
From the end of July to mid-September 1878 Tchaikovsky worked on correcting the proofs of the first edition of the piano score . In October 1878, the piano score of Onegin was published (both as a complete set and as individual numbers) .
When sending back the corrected proofs to Pyotr Jurgenson (on 2/14 August 1878), Tchaikovsky had asked him to entitle the opera: "'Yevgeny Onegin'. Lyrical scenes in 3 acts". This is essential. For many reasons I don't want to call this thing an opera" 
In early 1880, Pyotr Jurgenson on his own initiative started making arrangements for having the opera's full score engraved—something that Tchaikovsky was not happy about . In December 1880, the full score of the opera with the piano arrangement inserted as a supplement was published. In this edition the original version of the opera's final scene was retained (including Onegin's final line: "O death, o death! I go to seek thee out!…").
When the piano score was republished in 1881 amendments were made to the final scene. Corrections and amendments were also made by the author in 1891 , when preparing the second edition of the full score . Tchaikovsky expressed the wish to remove the piano reduction from the score, but Pyotr Jurgenson did not comply with this request (he just changed the marking of the piano lines a little) .
The textual variants in the three editions are mainly to do with the ending of the final scene.
In 1880, when preparations were underway for the first production of the opera on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Tchaikovsky, following a request by his brother Anatoly , altered somewhat the text and stage directions for the final scene. On 17/29 October 1880, the composer wrote to Anatoly: "Although personally I don't agree with you and think that Pushkin, by certain hints and allusions, entitles one as it were to let this scene conclude the way I did, I have paid heed to your advice and tried to change the scene, as you will see from the enclosed sheets. First of all, on p. 242, instead of the direction that Tatyana is to fall into Onegin's arms etc I have written: Onegin approaches closer. After that he sings what is written on that page, still addressing her as Vy ; then it just continues as it was before; at the very end, however, I have changed Tatyana's words—namely, she is no longer to be on the brink of giving in and losing her resolve, but will instead keep going on about duty; Onegin does not try to embrace her, but just implores her in words; then, instead of 'I am dying!' Tatyana now says: 'Farewell forever!' and disappears, whilst he, after standing there dazed for a few minutes, utters his concluding words. The general is not to come in" 
The amendments indicated by Tchaikovsky referred to the text of the scene starting from Tatyana's response after Onegin's words: "… there is no other way for you" [… тебе другой дороги нет] (Andante molto mosso) and going up to the end of the scene. The changes to the stage directions indicated by Tchaikovsky in the letter quoted above were not made, except for the last one, and in all editions of the opera the stage directions for the original version of this scene have been retained.
In the 1891 edition the tempi observations were changed; a cut was made in the finale of Scene 4; and in Scene 6 a chorus was replaced by the Ecossaise, which Tchaikovsky wrote at the request of Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the Director of the Imperial Theatres for Saint Petersburg, in 1885. A letter of 10/22 August 1885 from Vsevolozhsky to Pavel Pchelnikov has come down to us in which Vsevolozhsky sets forth the reasons why a new dance number was required for the Saint Petersburg ball scene . On 21 August/2 September 1885, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "I've had a meeting with Vsevolozhsky, who asked me to write a dance number for the second ball in Onegin. Given that new decorations and costumes are currently being fitted out for this ball, and given also that they are taking so much trouble to ensure the success of Onegin, I could not refuse, in spite of my disinclination, and I agreed to fulfil Vsevolozhsky's request. We had a long discussion about the kind of dance that was to be added until, finally, we settled on an Ecossaise…" 
The first four scenes of Yevgeny Onegin were presented at the Conservatory in December 1878. The whole opera was staged for the first time on 17/29 March 1879, at the Maly Theatre in Moscow, in a performance by students from the Moscow Conservatory, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein and directed by Ivan Samarin.
The first performance of Yevgeny Onegin in Saint Petersburg (played and sung from the piano score) took place in the house of Yuliya Abaza  on 6/18 March 1879. Tatyana was sung by Aleksandra Panayeva; Olga by Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya; Onegin by Ippolit Pryanishnikov; and the nurse by Mme Abaza. On 22 April/4 May 1883, the opera was staged at the Kononov Theatre in Saint Petersburg by the Musical-Dramatic Amateur Circle in a performance conducted by Karl Zike and directed by K. A. Potekhin. It was not until 19/31 October 1884 that Yevgeny Onegin was staged at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg in a performance conducted by Eduard Nápravník.
Ever since he started work on this opera, enchanted by the poetic spirit of Pushkin's original, Tchaikovsky would always retain his great affection for the music that he wrote for his setting of the novel. In a letter to Sergey Taneyev on 2/14 January 1878 Tchaikovsky wrote: "I wrote this opera because one fine day I felt an inexpressible urge to set to music everything in Onegin that is just asking to be turned into music. I did this as best as I could. I worked on the opera with an indescribable enthusiasm and pleasure, not worrying too much as to whether it had action, effects etc. […] I need people, not puppets; I would gladly tackle any opera [subject] in which, even if it did not have any powerful and unexpected effects, I should find beings like me, experiencing emotions which I too have experienced and can understand […] I am looking for an intimate but powerful drama, based on a conflict of situations which I have experienced or witnessed myself, and which are able to touch me to the quick […] Yes, this is an opera without any prospects; I knew this when I was writing it, and still I completed it and I shall definitely have it published […] I wrote it because I was obeying an irresistible inner attraction. I assure you that it is only under this condition that one should write operas. As for thinking about effects and worrying about how it will work on the stage, that is only necessary to a certain degree. Otherwise, what you'll get is something effective, entertaining, perhaps even beautiful and interesting, but not fascinating, not actually alive" 
In another letter to Taneyev, dated 24 January/5 February 1878, Tchaikovsky again wrote: "… If it is true, as you claim, that opera is action, and that there is no action in my Onegin, then I am perfectly willing to call Onegin not an opera but whatever you like: scenes, a stage adaptation, a poema , just as you wish. I wanted to write a musical illustration to Onegin, whereby I had no choice but to resort to the form of drama and I am ready to take upon myself all the consequences of my notorious inability to understand the stage and to choose suitable subjects for it. It seems to me that all its inadequacies for the stage are redeemed by the charm of Pushkin's verses. However, in this regard I have certain misgivings which are much more important than the fear that the audience will not be shuddering with curiosity to find out the denouement of the plot. I'm referring to the sacrilegious impertinence with which, much against my will, I had to add to many of Pushkin's verses either my own or, in some places, verses by Shilovsky. That's what I am afraid of, that's what's really troubling me! As for the music, I should like to point out to you that if there was ever any music written with genuine enthusiasm, with love for the plot and characters it is inspired by, then that is the music to Onegin. I was melting and quivering with indescribable delight when I wrote it. And if even just the slightest portion of what I felt when composing this opera finds a response in the listeners, then I will be very satisfied and I want for no more" 
For the Russian dance in Act I—Across the little bridge (Уж как по мосту-мосточку)—Tchaikovsky used the folk-song Twine round, little cabbage (Вейся, не вейся, капустка). There is good reason to suppose that the composer borrowed this song from a collection of folk-songs written down by S. N. Rachinskaya, a relative of Sergey Rachinsky. In December 1875, Sergey Rachinsky brought these songs with him to show them to Tchaikovsky. In a letter of 18/30 December 1875 the composer asked him for permission to take them abroad with him  (he set off from Moscow on 20 December 1875/ 1 January 1876). The transcription of the song Twine round, little cabbage made by S. N. Rachinskaya was published in: The Great Russian in His Songs, Customs, Traditions, Beliefs, Fairy-Tales, Legends etc. Material compiled and arranged by P. V. Shein (Великорусс в своих песнях, обрядах, обычаях, верованиях, сказках, легендах и т.п. Материалы, собранные и приведённые в порядок П. В. Штейном), Vol. 1, Part 1 (published by the Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg, 1898), p. 134, No. 547. The foreword to this compilation is dated 1867, which indicates that it was being prepared long before its eventual publication.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 38–47
This page was last updated on 02 April 2013