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Letter scene

Opera details:

Opera title:

Eugene Onegin


Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky




Eugene Onegin Synopsis


Eugene Onegin Libretto


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Previous scene: Uzel ta samaja Tatjana
Next scene: Was fuhrte Sie in unsere Einsamkeit

Angela Denoke 'Letter Scene' - Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky - James Allen Gähres, cond., Ulm Philh.

Singer: Angela Denoke

ANGELA DENOKE sings Tatyana's Letter Scene, Act I of the opera Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Andante con moto – Allegro non troppo – Moderato assai quasi Andante

Angela Denoke, soprano
James Allen Gähres, conductor

Ulm Philharmonic

Live recorded during open public performance.
Ulm, Germany
All rights reserved.
Sung in German.

"It seems to me that I am truly gifted with the ability truthfully, sincerely, and simply to express the feelings, moods, and images suggested by a text." – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Perhaps nowhere in opera does the letter take on more significance than in the famous Letter Scene in Eugene Onegin. Wagner excluded, this is arguably one of the longest monologues in all of opera. The introduction is an extended version of Tatyana's leitmotif, then there is the Letter Aria itself in which Tatyana sings for 12 uninterrupted minutes while she writes her letter to Onegin. It is sandwiched in between an opening and a closing duet with her nurse – some notes are recovered from the Russian dance, and from Tatyana's Longing theme. The solo that follows is a complex and self-contained music drama. It starts over an orchestra that plays a heavy, ominous message, repeating the theme when Tatyana was telling her nurse how upset she was. In spite of her fears, she rushes into a burst of happy song (an Allegro non troppo). She tries her hand at writing the letter a first time, but it's no good, then the orchestra becomes expectant with a ping-ping harp beat, and continues like this while she writes. It's a simple oboe line crossed by the dropping fourths and fifths of flute, clarinet, and horn. The light splashes of the harp convey the naive and romantic character of the girl, but also pantomimically reproduce the act of writing (Mussorgsky has used the same effect in writing scenes in both Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina).

The orchestra next goes into an andante that is the motto for the whole opera, the Tatyana Longing leitmotif.

As she reads the result to herself and is pleased, the orchestra runs into a rising melody, and as Tatyana reaches her most excited state while begging the absent Onegin to put her mind at rest, there is a fortissimo in the orchestra that has been closely compared to the Pathétique Symphony. The scene ends by being interrupted by a shepherd's pipe – the oboe is evocative of Rossini's shepherd tunes.

Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is a radiant example of Russian Lyric Opera. A deeply moving tale packed with big tunes, dances and a heart-stopping duel. As with his ballets, Tchaikovsky brings many symphonic elements to the music, plush orchestrations and highly melodic arias.

Onegin is a uniquely Russian opera with a universality that has made it globally popular. None of the characters are easy to associate with and yet the events and their actions ring horribly true.

The work is subdivided into three acts, seven scenes and 22 numbers but despite these clear divisions, Tchaikovsky advances a leitmotif-like structure spanning outward from Tatyana’s Letter Scene, the centerpiece of the opera. This isn’t Wagner by any means but you’ll hear the same recurring themes throughout, ever shifting towards the final climactic duet.

During the latter half of 1876 and into 1877, Tchaikovsky sought a topic for his next opera. The suggestion for "Eugene Onegin," Pushkin’s poetic masterpiece, came to Tchaikovsky when he was visiting friends, an idea that at first struck him as crazy. The story lacked plot, the situations bland and the conclusion without climax (not to mention the impossibility of capturing on stage one of the novel’s most powerful elements: the self-conscious, first person narrator).

He quickly fell head over heels for the tale however and swiftly set to work creating a scenario with Konstantin Shilovsky, the co-librettist. This everyday story was a novelty in the world of opera but Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother, Modest, in May 1877, "How glad I am to be rid of Egyptian princesses, pharaohs, poisonings, and stilted effects of all kinds. What a mine of poetry there is in Onegin."

Tchaikovsky would progress steadily with work on Onegin first in Switzerland and then Italy where he finished the opera in January 1878. He was proud of the work but feared what might happen if it were given to one of the grand opera houses. He wasn’t even sure it should be an "opera" thinking of it as "lyrical scenes." As a result he gave the students of the Moscow Conservatory the opportunity to premiere Onegin which they did at Maly Theatre on March 29, 1879, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein.

After several years of tinkering by Tchaikovsky, particularly in regards to the final scene, Onegin received its professional debut at Bolshoi Theater in January 23, 1881. Gustav Mahler conducted the German premiere in Hamburg in 1892. It would take till 1920 for it to first reach the United States.

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Full libretto Eugene Onegin

English Libretto or Translation:

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Full English translation Eugene Onegin

Sheetmusic in our database with this aria

Operatic Anthology: Soprano

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