For me the entire piece pivots around Tatiana’s letter writing scene; if that is no good the whole show is off. Of course for Tchaikovsky this scene was the first building block of the opera, and it is somehow mind boggling to think that the composer took events from his own life and projected them brilliantly on Pushkin’s great novella.

(The woman he was briefly married to had written him unsolicited love letters, and it’s as if his empathic talent made him powerless to reject her advances: he identified with Tatiana, and married a woman he could not stand to hear talking.)

Perhaps it’s just me but I find it incredibly moving to see Tatiana sit down at her little writing desk and pour her soul onto the paper. An aria about writing a letter! And her first line “I am writing to you, what more need I say?” is even more moving.

She could have left it that and kept the letter, and everybody would have been happy ever after.

The beauty is there is a terrible irony in this scene. She is really writing to herself, saying “I am a woman of great passions”. In some ways Tatiana is not pouring her soul onto the paper. Everything she writes is a figment of her fantasy, if not an outright cliché. She wants to be in love, like the women she’s read about in her romantic novels. In that way Tatiana is Madame Bovary’s aunt.

There are people who think that Eugene Onegin is an opera about Tchaikovsky’s own homosexuality. He seduces Olga only to prevent her marrying Lenski. Then he leaves her, because Lenski is his true love. Later, when he returns and declares again his love for Tatiana, she is already married and out of reach.

I don’t know if this interpretation is the most correct. But I always had the feeling that Onegin doesn’t really love Tatiana. She’s wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume, but that’s what she’s supposed to be.

Anyone who loves this opera really needs the Bolshoi/Boris Khaikin recording of 1955. This is a mono recording, though rather better than many of the Melodiya recordings of the day, but has, in the young Galina Vishnevskaya, the most believable Tatiana on record. Her letter scene, superbly backed by Khaikin’s conducting, catches to perfection the conflicting feelings of the young Tatiana. The great Sergei Lemeshev is by this time somewhat mature for Lenski, but nevertheless sings with consummate artistry, and Yevgeny Belov, though maybe not as imaginative as some, is a manly Onegin. Ivan Petrov, a little over indulgent in his aria, is a sympathetic Gremin. I’m not sure if it’s available any more.

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