Saturday, February 13, 2016

Onegin (1999)

I discovered Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse via opera.  A few years back, my sister and I went to see the Royal Opera house's version broadcast in our local movie theater.  My parents were so very Italian/French opera oriented growing up, that even though Tchaikovsky is one of my dad's all-time favorite composers, we somehow had never listened to Eugene Onegin, other than the famous instrumental portions.  Our introduction in 2013 was with a magnificent version staring a first-rate cast:  Krassimira Stoyanova as Tatyana, Pavol Breslik as Lensky, and my beloved Simon Keenlyside as Onegin.  My sister and I fell in love with the opera.  The music was exquisite, the characters oh-so-relatable, and the love story sucked us in with surprising power.


I promptly bought a translation of the novel to read.

And then the Met performed Onegin shortly thereafter released in the theaters as well on one of their HD broadcasts with another first rate cast:  Anna Netrebko as Tatyana, Piotr Beczala as Lensky, and Mariusz Kwiecien as Onegin.  Kwiecien is my sister's favorite baritone, much as Keenlyside is mine.  Both versions are fabulous, and I'm not sure which one I'd rather watch.  We each own our respective baritone's version on DVD, naturally, though it's often a coin toss that determines which version we watch.


And then we found a movie version starring Ralph Fiennes as Onegin, Liv Tyler as Tatyana, Toby Stevens as Lensky.  And this version was equally as fabulous, just no singing this time.  But it captured everything so well, and because it's a movie, it has beautiful scenery, etc.  The movie version also ended up being more emotional for us than the opera!  This is all because of Ralph Fiennes.  The duel scene... holy smoke, the duel scene.  Fiennes put both of us in tears in that scene, where the opera versions just made us make sad faces at that point.  And it's not like either opera version wasn't moving, but the movie?  Wow.  Emotionally, this movie totally nailed that scene.


The basic plot follows a young bored nobleman (Onegin) who takes up residence in the country and becomes friends with a nice young poet, Lensky.  Lensky takes Onegin to meet his girlfriend, Olga, whose older sister, Tatyana, falls hard for Onegin.  She writes him a letter, pouring out her heart to him... and gets politely but firmly rejected and dismissed.  (This can be coldly done in some versions, but it's such an intriguing scene cuz Onegin is just brutally honest about their chances of happiness, he's not being deliberately cruel.  I'm endlessly fascinated by this story.)  Tatyana is, of course, devastated and crushed.  At her name day celebration, Onegin (now being a troublemaker) flirts with Olga and ends up causing Lensky to challenge him to a duel.  This does not go well, and Onegin is forced to kill Lensky.  He runs away for a few years, and when he returns to St. Petersburg and attends a ball, he sees the most beautiful woman... and then realizes it is Tatyana, no longer a young country girl, but the elegant wife of the prince.  Now it's his turn to fall hard, his turn to write her love letters... which she rejects.  When they finally meet, she tells him it's too late, she's married now and won't leave her husband, even though she really does still loves Onegin.  And he is left lost, bitter, and full of regrets. (Or as we good-naturedly like to translate his last line of the opera:  "My life sucks!"  Which is actually a fair line for many an opera character to use as the curtain falls.)


Ralph Fiennes plays a perfect Onegin.  Bored, dissolute, but caring under it all.  And Liv Tyler is so lovely and dreamy, with her romantic ideals and her constant books.  They make a good pairing for this version, well-matched.

(Love this shot of Tatyana sneaking away to find privacy and read books in a row boat.  I would do that.)

Eugene Onegin has helped my sister and I introduce multiple people to opera, several of which have become great fans not just of this opera, but of other operas we've shown them.  How cool is that? 

Here's my favorite scene in the opera, this from the Met's HD version with Mariusz and Piotr.  This is where their friendship unravels, and the challenge is issued for the duel.  I love the part that starts 6:00 minutes in, where the challenge for the duel is accepted, and the two have a bit of a brawl.  I will often watch this clip on youtube, then switch over and watch the same scene, but the Keenlyside/Breslik version, cuz they have a more enthusiastic mini-brawl with some wrecking of furniture.  But that one doesn't have subtitles, and this one does, so... here's the conclusion of act 2 scene 1.


  1. Haha! "Standing around like a Byronic Hero?" Perhaps I should see one of these.

  2. Hee. Yes. And Lensky is, of course, the opposite of Lenzky. Lensky is sweet and in love and naive and stubborn and honorable. Everything Lenzky is not. Except maybe stubborn. LOL.

    I'm partial to Simon's version, of course, because... Simon. He brings so much emotion to his characterization. Also his version has this really neat half-flashback thing going on, with younger non-singing versions of the characters interacting. (if you're ever interested, I can send you the youtube link for the same scene as above. I love the differences.)

    It's funny cuz I relate to both Tatyana and Onegin, and L relates to Lensky and Olga. Made the story even more interesting for us.

    1. Sure, send me the YouTube link! Or save it for Monday?

      Sounds like a perfect story for you two, then.