Yep, you read that right. It happened a few years ago and it is time for me to come clean about it. To cut a long story short, we had managed to get opera tickets to see the Bolshoi at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I am ashamed to admit that it was my very first opera in a foreign language (we French tend to stick to what we know). In my defence, this is also because I grew up in a small village in Provence, and opera was the last thing on everybody’s mind. In fact, I had been lucky to see a couple of performances. That day, we were seeing Eugene Onegin. I didn’t know what to expect. I had read that the story had been written by Pushkin, and the music by Tchaikovsky. It was all I knew.
We sat down. Attending a performance in such beautiful settings was already a rare treat. The music started, and we were introduced to the feisty Olga and her sister Tatyana. Because don’t get this opera wrong: it was not about the selfish and cynical Eugene Onegin. It was all about the lovely Tatyana, who had decided to pour her heart in a love letter to Eugene Onegin, only to be left crushed and rejected.
As the story progressed, I was feeling a lump in my throat. I was mesmerised. Despite the fact that Eugene Onegin ended up killing Olga’s fiance, Lensky, in a duel, Tatyana remained true to her initial feelings towards him. Many years later, she became a princess. When meeting Onegin again, she kept faithful to her husband, the prince. She clearly was the true heroin of this story. Her fragility transpired in her arie, and the music was simply perfect. I especially liked the use of oboe -it echoed Tatyana’s emotions-, and the simplicity of the staging. I was living the story. It was a depth of emotion that I hadn’t felt for a long, long time. As for the male characters, they had voices that were giving me goosebumps (listen to the Lensky aria if you don’t believe me). I didn’t move, I didn’t clear my throat. I just kept on watching. I was clinging on to my seat.
Since attending the performance, I have talked to lots of friends. Most of them have told me that Eugene Onegin was a ‘Russian oddity’, ‘too simplistic’, or ‘a ballet clumsily turned into an opera’. Nothing could be further from the truth. How could they not see? It was authentic, raw, and a poignant reminder that passion came at a price, but that we could choose who we were.
I started reading Pushkin and listening to Tchaikovsky music. I just love them. What can I say? You don’t choose who you love, right?
Since then, I have attended some other performances, and I will be seeing my very first Wagner in march. Wish me luck. But Eugene Onegin, Pushkin and Tchaikovsky will always hold a special place in my heart. And I ‘met’ them all in London.
What about you? Have you had such experiences? Tell me I am not the only one.