Eternal themes of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin revived at National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre
Minsk’s theatre season — like that of regional theatres — is already running at top speed, with opening nights, tours and festivals. Passionate theatre-lovers have so much to choose from — including opera and drama. There are quite a number of new productions and companies on tour (in October, Minsk hosted the International Panorama Theatre Art Festival).
To see behind the scenes, I joined the cast of Eugene Onegin after work; being tired, I was somewhat reluctant, having forgotten the restorative power of music. All my thoughts ran around Pushkin’s novel — mandatory study at secondary school and I easily recollected the simple plot of Tatiana Larina’s unrequited love. It is a universally recognised literary classic but, as teenagers, we never thought of it as such. Either our teachers were unable to interpret its essence creatively, or we — having no experience of first love — could not empathise with the characters. With a smile, I recalled my naive school days, remembering my indignation at a classmate saying, “Tatiana is stupid to have confessed her love to Onegin.” They meant that she shouldn’t have taken the first step, but I liked Tatiana, especially her dedication to her love affair. Naturally, I shared my feelings with no one. I went to the theatre with a vague desire to discover new meanings and to listen to Tchaikovsky’s music — full of cordiality and drama, performed on the world’s top stages.
It was my first visit to the building since its reconstruction and the renovation is clear from the entrance lobby onwards. The faзade and interior haven’t changed, with Iosif Langbard’s design carefully preserved, but every detail has been restored to its former glory. The marble staircase takes visitors to the dress circle and balcony, the walls adorned with gold leaf. The mosaic on the floor is truly impressive. Meanwhile, tremendous crystal chandeliers illuminate the theatre, creating a formal atmosphere, and it boasts soft velvet chairs.
On week days, it’s rare to see women wearing furs or for men to put on black tails and bow ties. Modern life is more relaxed, with many people coming straight from work. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to note that my fellow countrymen look stylish — even on routine work days. Our appearance is more or less acceptable, even for the opera.
What I admire most is the delight on the faces of the audience. It’s nonsense to think that opera is for the elite alone! It’s clear that such pleasure comes from understanding, mature emotions and a certain level of intelligence: the mandatory set of mental qualities that allow us to enjoy music, poetry, drama, choreography and their organic combination.
The theatre’s Musical Director and conductor, Honoured Figure of Arts of Belarus Nikolay Kolyadko, waves his baton and the prelude begins, drawing us into Tatiana’s fragile world. From the balcony, I can see how big the orchestra is. As the heavy gold curtain rises, it reminds me of a royal mantle. Something magical is occurring, embracing the audience in a virtual world. The stage is filled with light, delicate pastel shades dominating the set and character costumes (by set designer Dmitry Mokhov). These gladdening the eye, while bringing Pushkin’s world to life.
In the first act, we hear duets by Tatiana (Tatiana Petrova) and her careless sister Olga (Yelena Salo), and by landowner Larina Senior (Tatiana Tiunova) and nanny Filipievna (Natalia Akinina). Lensky (Yuri Bolotko) and Onegin (Vladimir Gromov) then take the stage. Later, quartets are replaced by arias, arioso, choir, waltz and mazurkas. The melodies reflect the characters’ states of mind, full of emotional contrast. Tatiana, in a passionate impulse, writes her declaration of love to Onegin. She is simultaneously seized by timidity, disarray and decisiveness... Lensky, stunned by Onegin’s betrayal in flirting with his fiancй out of boredom, performs the melancholy aria ‘Ah have you flown, so fast, so far, Those golden days of my Spring time?’
Of course, we all know how the story ends, so rather than dwelling on the plot, I’ll tell you my thoughts on this fantasy world born of poetry and music. It’s a world where emotions and decency collide with light-mindedness and carelessness. Certainly, the opera takes the book to a new level. There was much I could not feel as a teenager; now, I see that every action has a consequence — sometimes dramatic. Pushkin’s understanding of the eternal themes of love and jealousy, betrayal and loyalty — in combination with Tchaikovsky’s music and, naturally, the brilliant acting — aroused in me an emotional outpouring. The dramatic tension of Onegin and Lensky’s duel, and the final conversation of Onegin and Tatiana, made me feel as if the events had occurred just a few hours ago and that I’d been privy to the characters’ private lives, entering a secret world for the duration of the opera. Suddenly, I recalled ‘melt into tears about some fantasy’ — words from Pushkin’s Elegy. They uncover the magical power of creative art, which makes human feelings vibrate in unison with those of the author…
One opera-lover noted, in the cloakroom, that you can listen to one and the same opera every new season and still discover something special each time. I believe Eugene Onegin, first shown in Minsk in 1986, is one such opera. Let’s check it again next season…
By Valentina Zhdanovich
City of unusual museums
Grodno is known as a city-museum with good reason; it has so many ancient buildings and churches adorning its historical centre and boasts numerous museums. The largest is the Regional Historical-Archaeological Museum, located in the Old and New castles. Several hours are needed to visit all its halls but they are worth making the effort for. Your trip to Grodno would be incomplete without a visit to its two unusual museums, both recently opened