Monday, June 30, 2008

Evgeni Onegin

Pushkin, the alter ego of Onegin?

One of one’s most loyal readers complained recently that this blog had for all intents become a photo-blog. She felt that the lack of substantial text, except for almost sibylline captions, was doing a disservice to the reputation of the blogger and was detrimental to the enjoyment of the Right Honourable Reader.

This Blogger of Yours has decided therefore to elaborate a bit more on the subject of his attendance, last Saturday, of a performance of “Evgeny Onegin“ at TAPAC (Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre) .

Without the luxury to go through one’s files, sometimes pompously referred to as “archives”, I nevertheless claim this to be my seventh Onegin: after São Carlos (Lisbon), Covent Garden (London), Bolshoi (Moscow), “Novaya Opera” (Moscow), “Helikon Opera” (Moscow) and “Can’t- remember-but-close-to-GUM-Opera” (Moscow).

Is it average attendance of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece considering the already respectable age of this blogger of yours (a piece of information, by the way, that together with one’s marital status one would never find in facebook-like so called ‘profiles)? Or does it tell something about one’s cultural choices, preferences and tastes?

The "biriosi" (silver Russian beech trees ) in Act I

Onegin, my most beloved Right Honourable Reader will agree with me, is the only true follower of the Master himself, Giacomo Casanova. For ages and innumerable blogposts, almost reaching the red-lines of Utter Boredom, I’ve been trying to gently persuade readers that the cold manipulating brain of a Great Seducer is a disguise for a warm self-delusional Romantic heart. Valmont was a Romantic?! Yes! Casanova? Of course! D. Juan? Absolutely not! Onegin? Kaneshno!

What make the character of Onegin so powerful are the redemptive features Pushkin chose to assign to him. Onegin could have taken advantage of Tatiana’s confessions in her letter to consummate an easy seducer’s success but showed instead an honourable restrain. He accepted in the end that he could not win back Tatiana, despite her admission that she still loved him, knowing fully well this would be his personal doom. One can almost feel Pushkin working hard to make his audience not condemning Onegin outright (the label of “seducer of young innocent girls” was almost as morally unpalatable in those times as the accusation of dealings with pornography nowadays). By all means make him kill a friend in a duel for a futile principled reason and don’t hesitate to make him trying to abduct the married wife of an old friend - but preserve at all costs the core morality of his romantic fancy!

Pushkin was trying to preserve his self-image of course, like answering in advance to critics of his own seducer’s behaviour in real life (where he was an occasional writer of porn epigrams as well…). He created this fictional alter ego to deal with his own ethical self-doubts. He made in the end Onegin pay for his youth of amoral freedom, absolving his soul in the process. And, years later, he, Pushkin, died, literally, to preserve the Oneginian image he had of himself, when confronted with the public disclosure of his love&wife’s infatuation with an unredeemable seducer (the French officer George Danthés).

If the Right Honourable Reader does not agree that these are powerful enough reasons to revisit the opera that is an adaptation of the novel-in-verse that is, in turn, auto-biographically based in Alexander Pushkin’s real life, I think He should consider rescind his readership of this blog.

The ball in the Provinces...

The premonitory duel (at the end of Act I)

And if entertaining the readership, even of serious blogs, needs a bit of titillating and exposure of one’s intimacy, maybe I should add as a bonus what happened during the performance at the Bolshoi. My companion, a Romantic hedge fund lawyer of long blond hair, was moving uncomfortably in her seat as the climax of the opera was approaching. When the sad outcome that the two lovers were never to re-unite became evident, in the very last Scene of Act III, I sensed something and looked at my left, towards her. The eyelashes of her light green eyes were wet by crying and her cheeks and mouth and chin were covered in tears…

The glamorous ball with the Gremins (Act III)

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