Tchaikovsky in “Onegin” is slowly setting himself up for the intense Arctic chill of his later work, “The Queen of Spades,” also inspired by Pushkin, which is
even more darkly destructive. Throughout “Onegin”, whether performed as an opera or as a ballet, this is evident in the eponymous protagonist himself, who shares
similar personality traits to the reckless Hermann in “The Queen of Spades” and also more importantly in the compellingly dark and dramatic orchestral score.
The title role of “Onegin” is a restless, careless and wildly impulsive man who doesn’t seem to know what he wants from life; first half-heartedly toying with the emotions of sisters Tatyana and Olga and killing his friend Lensky in a fight.
He isn’t cruel by nature; if anything, Onegin’s character is all too human. This is a man who clearly regrets his failings and actions deeply but always too late. He is more of a self-destructive tornado who hurts anyone in his path.
“Onegin” as a ballet is complex to express; the leading male dancer has to project carelessness, recklessness and finally utter devastation and anguish through the medium of dance. John Cranko’s choreography expertly draws out the characters’ deepest emotions and lends real meaning to the ballet both through Onegin and the leading lady, Tatyana, as well as the supporting roles.
Onegin aimlessly wanders the world after rejecting the lovely Tatyana before returning to a ball years later where she is now princess, married to Prince Gremin. He wants her back; in human nature we are always wanting what we can’t have. When it is there in front of us, there is no challenge and Onegin craves challenges with every fibre of his soul.
Tchaikovsky’s love for the character of Tatyana is evident; she is perhaps the most well-developed personality of the ballet; full of childish longing, love and sadness, becoming ever more elegant and refined despite her heartbreak.
Set designer Thomas Mika paints beautiful pictures with his backgrounds that sweep from the elegant ball scenes to the desolate and bleak wintry landscapes which often reinforce the feelings of the protagonists themselves. Particularly harsh are the moments when young Tatyana, rejected by Onegin, is despairing in the snow in a starkly empty wilderness.
How appropriate for a brutally cold January in a world full of uncertainty. New Year is not a happy occasion but one of fear and trepidation given the current world climate.
After the long Christmas run of “The Nutcracker”, a beautifully crafted but essentially showcase ballet, the return of “Onegin” is a welcome break from the world of happy endings.
January 19-February 5
(There are different casts, so check the website for details)
Opera House, District VI
Andrássy út 22
Tickets and information: www.opera.hu/programme