|Music||Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky arrangements by Kurt-Heinz Stolze|
|Based on||Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin|
|Premiere||13 April 1965|
|Original ballet company||Stuttgart Ballet|
Cranko first discovered Alexander Pushkin's verse-novel Eugene Onegin when he choreographed the dances for Tchaikovsky's opera of the same name in 1952. He first proposed a ballet based on Pushkin's story to the Royal Opera House board in the 1960s, but it was turned down, and he pursued the idea when he moved to Stuttgart. The Stuttgart Ballet premiered the work in 1965. The Royal Ballet did not present the work until 2001. The choreography for his ballet includes a wide range of styles, including folk, modern, ballroom and acrobatic. The music takes inspiration from the composer he worked with when he was first introduced to the story – Kurt-Heinz Stolze arranged music by Tchaikovsky, which came principally from his piano works rather than his orchestral works, to accompany the dancers. The original principals were Marcia Haydée as Tatiana, Ray Barra as Onegin, Egon Madsen as Lensky and Ana Cardus as Olga.
Between 1965 and 1967 Cranko revised Onegin several times. His scenario originally ended with Tatiana kissing her children goodnight, which he decided lessened the drama of her final encounter with Onegin. Cranko also deleted the prologue, in which Onegin was seen at his uncle's deathbed. The standard version of the ballet was first performed by the Stuttgart company in October 1967.
1965 premiere cast
Madame Larina's garden
In the garden, Madame Larina, her daughters Olga and Tatiana, and the nurse are finishing party dresses and discussing Tatiana's upcoming birthday celebrations. They think about the future, and the local girls 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 Eugene Onegin, who has come to the country to see if it can offer him any distraction from city life. Tatiana falls in love with the handsome stranger, who seems so different from the country people she knows, while Onegin only sees a naive, romantic girl.
That night, Tatiana dreams of Onegin, her first love. She writes him a passionate love letter, which she asks her nurse to deliver.
The local gentry have all arrived to celebrate Tatiana's birthday. Onegin finds the company boring and is struggling to be polite. He is also annoyed by Tatiana's letter, which he thinks is just an outburst of adolescent love. He seeks Tatiana out and tears up her letter, telling her that he cannot love her. Prince Gremin, a distant relative of Tatiana who is in love with her, appears. Madame Larina hopes they will make a good match, but Tatiana hardly notices him as she is so distressed. Onegin decides to provoke Lensky by flirting with Olga, hoping it will relieve his boredom. Olga joins in with the joke, but Lensky takes it seriously and challenges Onegin to a duel.
Tatiana and Olga try to reason with Lensky but he insists the duel must go ahead. Onegin kills his friend.
Years later, Onegin returns to St. Petersburg after travelling the world. He goes to a ball at the palace of Prince Gremin. Onegin is surprised when he recognises the beautiful Princess Tatiana as the country girl he once turned away. He realises how much he lost through his previous actions.
Onegin writes to Tatiana and reveals his love. He asks to see her but she does not wish to see him. She pleads with her husband not to leave her alone that evening. Onegin comes and declares his love for her. Tatiana feels Onegin's change of heart has come too late. And even if she still loves him she has now a new life with Prince Gremin and also after having killed Lensky she would never want Onegin again. She tears up his letter and orders him to leave her forever.
After the Stuttgart premiere the ballet critic of The Times rated the piece enjoyable but not wholly successful. He found the score unmemorable and the characters sketchy: "Solitary introverts are difficult to depict in dancing". By 1974, when the Stuttgart company presented the piece at Covent Garden shortly after Cranko's death, the critic John Percival reassessed the work much more favourably, praising both the music and the narrative expertise of the choreography. The work has continued to divide critical opinion. In 2004 The Independent called it "a weak piece [missing] the story's depth, its psychological understanding". Three years later the critic in The Sunday Times found that the work's "acutely expressive choreography ... never fails to enthral... Cranko's handling of the Pushkin story as dance is masterly." Other comments have included "compelling but dramatically flawed", "magnificent ... a neck-pricking five-star triumph, "stodgily operatic" and "a sad, beautiful ballet, a true romance with four finely drawn leading characters and a grown-up poignance rarely found."
For the music score to Onegin Cranko invited German musician and conductor Kurt-Heinz Stolze (then the Kapellmeister for Stuttgart Ballet) to arrange and orchestrate a compilation of solo piano and orchestral pieces from different compositions by Tchaikovsky. Stolze used selections from five solo piano opuses (from The Seasons, Op. 37a, Op. 19, and Op. 72), selections from the opera Cherevichki, Op. 9 (as a main musical theme for Tatiana and Onegin), the symphonic fantasy Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32, the symphonic ballad The Voyevoda, Op. 3, a duet from the incomplete opera Romeo and Juliet, and Impromptu from Two Piano Pieces, Op. 1.
Notes and references
- The Tchaikovsky works on which Stolze drew for the score were The Seasons, Op 37, Nocturne No 4, Op 19, Three pieces for piano, Op 9, Six Pieces for piano, Op 19, Six Pieces for piano, Op 51, 18 Pieces for piano, Op 72, the opera Cherevichki, Francesca da Rimini, Op 32, and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture.
- "Onegin", The Ballet Bag, retrieved 19 March 2015
- Crane, Debra. "A trial of broken arts", The Times, 20 November 2001
- "Onegin", Royal Opera House, revived 17 March 2015
- "Cranko ballet on Eugene Onegin", The Times, 7 June 1965, p. 4
- "Synopsis", Programme booklet for Onegin, Royal Opera House 2014–15 season, pp. 6–9
- Percival, John. "Cranko's inspiration". The Times, 25 June 1974, p. 13
- Anderson, Zoe. "Saved by the execution", The Independent, 1 June 2004
- Dougill, David. "The peak of passion", The Sunday Times, 27 March 2007
- Jennings, Luke. "That's one lean, mean Onegin",The Observer, 27 January 2013
- Brown, Ismene. "Rojo leads a five-star triumph", The Daily Telegraph, 24 November 2001
- Anderson, Zoe. "Lukewarm love in a cold climate", The Independent, 5 October 2010
- Brown, Ismene. "Rapture in 19th-century Russia", The Daily Telegraph, 28 may 2004