Act I, Scene 1 – Madame Larina’s Garden: Madame Larina, Olga, and the nurse are finishing the party dresses and gossiping about Tatiana’s coming birthday festivities. Madame Larina speculates on the future. Girls from the neighborhood arrive and play an old folk game: whoever looks into the mirror will see her beloved.
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 naïve country girl who reads too many romantic novels.
Act I, Scene 2: Tatiana’s Bedroom – Tatiana, her imagination aflame with impetuous first love, dreams of Onegin and writes him a passionate love letter which she gives to the nurse to deliver.
Act II, Scene 1: Tatiana’s Birthday – The provincial gentry have come to celebrate Tatiana’s birthday. 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 relative 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 kind relative.
Onegin, in his boredom, decides to provoke Lensky by flirting with Olga, who lightheadedly joins in his teasing. But Lensky takes the matter with passionate seriousness. He challenges Onegin to a duel.
Act II, Scene 2: The Duel – Tatiana and Olga try to reason with Lensky, but his high romantic ideals have been shattered by the betrayal of his friend and the fickleness of his beloved; he insists that the duel take place. Onegin kills his friend.
Act III, Scene 1: St. Petersburg – Years later, Onegin, having traveled the world in an attempt to escape from his own sense of futility, returns to St. Petersburg where he is received at a ball in the palace of Prince Gremin. Gremin has 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.
Act III, Scene 2: Tatiana’s Boudoir – Onegin has written to Tatiana revealing his love and asking to see her, but she does not wish to meet him. She pleads in vain with her unsuspecting husband not to leaver her alone this evening. Onegin comes and declares his love for her. In spite of her emotional turmoil, Tatiana realizes that Onegin’s change of heart has come too late. Before his eyes, she tears up his letter and orders him to leave her forever.
John Cranko’s ballet Eugene Onegin is related to Tchaikovsky’s opera only through Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel which provides the basic story for both works. Which is to say that the music to the full-length ballet does not contain one measure from Tchaikovsky’s opera. Instead, I have culled the music from various lesser-known compositions by Tchaikovsky and arranged most of it myself. As musical arranger, my function was to provide large-scale musical forms for the dramatic plot. These forms had to correspond on one hand with the dramatization of the plot while on the other they had to be composed of short musical numbers that could easily be connected for the purpose of interpretation through dance. Because of their simple form, Tchaikovsky’s Compositions for Piano (volumes 51-53 of the complete edition) lent themselves particularly well and provided about three-fourths of the music for this ballet. The Piano Cycle Op. 37, The Seasons, was especially useful and the opera, The Caprices of Oxana, composed in 1855, (from which I used two arias, one chorus, and a few instrumental numbers) yielded much of the music. A duet from Romeo and Juliet served as a sketch for the main theme in the Tatiana-Onegin pas de deux in the first act, whereas the second movement from the symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini takes up much of the pas de deux in the third act. The big dance numbers – Waltz, Mazurka, Polonaise, etc. – have mainly been created from piano compositions.
The dramatic structure of the ballet required a continuity so that the different pieces had to be connected. For this reason, some of the themes were used like Leitmotivs. In their recurrence, they are often changed harmonically and rhythmically. Some scenes are accompanied by free variations of themes cited earlier in the score. This made it possible to connect and combine individual pieces into larger musical structures which depart from the architectural principal of the usual “Number Ballet.” In arranging the music, I felt it was important not to depart too much from the typical Tchaikovsky orchestration. At the same time, it was necessary to avoid all-too-frequent tutti effects. In line with the ballet’s dramatic action, which, in Onegin is carried out almost exclusively by the main characters, I felt it was best to treat the orchestra on the whole in more chamber-music-like fashion than is usually the case in Tchaikovsky’s original ballets, and to reserve the use of the full orchestra mainly for the dramatic climaxes and endings.
– Kurt-Heinz Stolze
June from The Months – Lensky/Olga pas de deux, Act I, Scene 1
Nocturne in c# for Cello and Small Orchestra, Op. 19 #4 – Tatiana/Onegin pas de deux, Act I, Scene 1
February from The Months – Act I between scenes
Overture in F Major – letter scene pas de deux, Act I, Scene 2
Waltz from Orchestra Suite #2 in C – Act I, Scene 2
Autumn from The Months – Lensky’s solo, Act II, Scene 2
Harvest from The Months – Trio, Act II, Scene 2
Polonaise from the opera Cherevichki (The Slippers) – opening of ball scene, Act III, Scene 1
Francesca da Rimini – Tatiana/Onegin final pas de deux, Act III, Scene 2
John Cranko was one of the 20th century’s greatest narrative choreographers. Cranko’s output was prodigious and he has left the ballet world with a rich repertoire of story ballets. His Romeo and Juliet, Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew are all in the National Ballet of Canada’s current repertoire and are superlative examples of his fine crafting of stage theatricality, skillful sense of drama, rich characterization and inventive dance vocabulary.
Onegin was originally created by Cranko in 1965 for Stuttgart Ballet, the company of which he was Artistic Director. A dazzling and powerful dance-drama, Onegin has become one of this century’s most important and sought-after full-length ballets. The ballet is based on the narrative poem Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin and on Tchaikovsky’s opera of the same name. It is a tale of unrequited love in the tragic meeting of an innocent young girl and a cynical aristocrat.
During the 1964/65 Stuttgart Ballet season, Cranko concentrated all his efforts on the creation of Onegin, his third full-length ballet. It was first performed by the Stuttgart Ballet on April 13, 1965 at the Wurtttemburgische Staatstheatre with Marcia Haydée as Tatiana, Ray Barra as Onegin, Egon Madsen as Lensky, and Ana Cardius as Olga. Cranko later produced a revised version of Onegin for Stuttgart Ballet in 1967 and it is this revised version that we see today.
Onegin was staged for the National Ballet of Canada in 1984 by Reid Anderson. Anderson was the Artistic Director of the company from 1989 to 1996 and is now Artistic Director of Stuttgart Ballet. Onegin was first performed by the National Ballet of Canada at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre) on June 14, 1984 with Sabina Allemann as Tatiana and Frank Augustyn as Onegin. The production was filmed by CBC-TV and Primedia and was directed by Norman Campbell. The film generated international praise ad received the Silver Medal in the Performance Arts category at the Houston International Film Festival.