Intense, romantic opera by Tchaikovsky
Eugene Onegin is an intimate encounter with youthful infatuation. It is also a powerful story about something familiar to us all: the passing of time, the chances we didn’t take – and that deep down, we are all alone.
The opera could have just as aptly been called Tatjana Larin. After all, it is as much her story as it is anyone else’s. It is about when she sees him for the first time – the handsome, well-travelled and self-confident Onegin. And it is about when, 16 years later, he sees Tatjana – a modern, well-read and beautiful woman. But by then it’s too late.
It’s a bitter cold winter. We’re at the Larin Family estate outside of St. Petersburg, where Mrs Larin lives with her daughters, Olga and Tatjana. When Olga’s fiancée Lensky introduces Tatjana to his friend Onegin, the lives of the four youths change forever.
Eugene Onegin features oversized choir scenes and oversized music. Yet it is also an intimate work that takes us into the remote corners of the human mind – inspired by Alexander Pushkin’s novel. Tchaikovsky referred to the opera as ‘lyrical scenes’ and could not imagine it being performed on major opera stages. He was wrong. Since premiering at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1881, it has become a well-established opera in opera houses around the world.
The opera delighted both audiences and critics when it premiered here in 2020. Now, as then, Svetlana Aksenova is performing the role of Tatjana, and Opera Director Randi Stene is starred as Larina, while Iiuri Samolov is singing the role of Onegin.
Director Christof Loy is known for his strong directing skills and has been nominated ‘Opera Director of the Year’ by trade magazine Opernwelt no fewer than three times. The magazine also described his Eugen Onegin in Oslo as one of the best opera performances of 2020.
Co-production with Teatro Real, Madrid and Liceu Opera, Barcelona.
One of the best performances I have ever seen in Bjørvika.
– MAGNUS ANDERSSON, KLASSEKAMPEN
Tatjana falls in love with Eugene Onegin, who rejects her. Onegin kills his best friend Lensky in a duel after he has flirted with his lover, Tatjana's sister Olga.
When Onegin and Tatjana meet again after several years, he realizes that it is Tatjana he loves, but by then it is too late, she is married to someone else.
The young Tatyana lives with her sister Olga, her mother Larina and the old nurse on a farm in the countryside, far away from big cities like St. Petersburg or Moscow. Tatyana loves this idyll, where she can feel like a child, where she dreams of a life more than actually living it.
Until now, her only knowledge of love and the pain of love came from books, but this changes when Lensky, who lives nearby, brings a friend to visit, Eugene Onegin.
A lot is said about this new neighbor, that he only reluctantly moved to the countryside to care for his seriously ill uncle, that until recently he was an unscrupulous and cynical man about town in St. Petersburg society.
Tatyana is immediately attracted to the stranger, and so writes him a passionate love letter a few hours later.
The very next morning, Onegin turns up in person to tell her that he is not made for a lasting love affair, and certainly not for marriage. But Tatyana remains under his spell for several months.
When a celebration is held on Tatyana’s name day, Onegin gets carried away and flirts with her sister Olga in public, right in front of her fiancé Lensky.
Discouraged, Tatyana suffers silently. She finds a soulmate in Lensky, who breaks off the friendship with Onegin in front of all the guests and goes so far as to challenge him to a duel. Onegin begins to realise that he has gone too far. Yet he accepts the challenge.
Onegin realises that he will have to face the consequences of his past life and above all, he has to understand that disasters inevitably have to run their course.
Lensky dies in the duel, and Onegin must see himself as the guilty party. Again, he is haunted by images of fleeing from himself. Again, he tries to return to a superficial life, but in vain.
But Lensky’s shade does not leave him in peace: nor does Tatyana, whose soul he has broken.
And finally, fate confronts him with Tatyana, who in the meantime has married Prince Gremin and left all girlish naivety behind. In his godforsaken loneliness, he believes that he now loves her passionately and wants to win her over. He has not learned to let go. So Tatyana must now reject him and forces him to live with his loneliness.
Artistic team and cast
Her kan du se hele rollelista:
LibrettoKonstantin Shilovsky, based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel
Original titleYevgény Onégin
Set designRaimund Orfeo Voigt
Lighting designOlaf Winter
ParticipantsOpera Chorus, Opera Orchestra
Første yngre tjenestepike
Andre yngre tjenestepike
The Opera Director about Eugene Onegin
Eugene Onegin is one of the most intense operas around. At the same time, it is an opera that is remarkably undramatic. Admittedly, there is a duel here, but otherwise, the drama happens among jam jars in the kitchen, between family members, and between senders and receivers of letters. Here we do not meet gods, kings, or heroes, but ordinary people with ordinary experiences: to be young and in love, to be a mother and worry, to be vulnerable in love and be rejected, to grow older and regret, to look back and stand by the choices one has made.
Tchaikovsky's incredibly beautiful music nevertheless makes us see both the grandeur and the drama of these emotions that you and I also encounter throughout our lives. In this way, the music creates a connection between us and the Russian countryside, which Pushkin portrayed in the novel on which the opera is based. The people we meet are filled with conflicted emotions. They all experience, in different ways, to lose something that is important to them – which also makes this one of the sorest operas I know of.
Unlike Verdi's A Masked Ball, which is staged at the Main Stage later this spring, Eugene Onegin isn't about big politics. Nevertheless, the big world bursts through the door of Larin's house. Our lives and stories are always part of a larger context, and Tchaikovsky's opera is a Russian artwork at a time when Russia is waging brutal warfare in Ukraine. We know that some of you, therefore, find it provoking that we are performing Eugene Onegin.
Let's be clear: We condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have chosen to follow the Norwegian Theatre and Orchestra Association, which does not recommend boycotting works created in or around Russia, in the same way, that we do not boycott other historical works created by artists who have lived in other countries in a different era. We know this will arouse some reactions and perhaps hurt others. Nevertheless, we choose to play Eugene Onegin, because it is a work that is primarily about ourselves. It is a work showing that music and art that have entered our collective heritage are not owned by a country or empire, but by the people creating and experiencing it here and now. This is important to us, and something we should not forget.
German director Christof Loy made this production for us in 2020; he will also create our new version of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen for us in 2026–2028. The audience and critics alike found it to be a strong performance conveying the combination of beauty and tenderness lingering in the work. Loy's Eugene Onegin was the last opera production we had on stage before the pandemic. When it was planned to be back on stage in 2021, we were hit by the strike. We then postponed the production to 2023. Many of the singers are the same as in 2020 and 2021, but this time Ukrainian Iurii Samoilov sings the title role.
«The opera encourages us to be sensitive, aware, but also brave enough to open up so that in time we can experience and think in new ways,» Loy said in an interview before the premiere. Faced with both Eugene Onegin and conflicting emotions in 2023, that's exactly what we need to be.
Panel discussion: Is it suitable to show Russian works now?
The opera Eugene Onegin had its first premiere in Moscow in 1879. Peter Tchaikovsky's music for Aleksandr Pushkin's story is today part of the opera genre's standard repertoire. This spring alone, the work will be performed in Vienna, Brussels, Hamburg, and Zurich - in addition to Oslo.
But is it suitable to play Russian works now? After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the debate is about whether Russian cultural heritage should be boycotted.
The Norwegian Opera & Ballet invites you to a panel discussion in the Mediation Center in the Opera on Monday 20 February at 18.00-19.00. The event is free. The conversation is also recorded as a podcast and published afterward.
NB! Limited space in the Mediation Centre
Julie Wilhelmsen, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy, Ph.D. in political science and works with Russian foreign and security policy
Arve Hansen, adviser at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Ph.D. in East Slavic studies, and co-author of the book A War of Songs: Popular Music and Recent Russia-Ukraine Relations (2019)
Frode Helland, University of Oslo, dean of the Faculty of Humanities, professor of Nordic literature
Morten Gjelten, director of the Norwegian Theater and Orchestra Association (NTO)
The conversation is led by Christian Kjelstrup, publishing editor at Vigmostad & Bjørke