Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse written by the Russian Romantic author Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, ranks among the best-known and most popular titles of global literature. The story of Onegin, a smug, selfish and world-weary Saint Petersburg dandy,and the shy country girl Tatiana, and their ill-fated love has engrossed readers and inspired artists of all stripes. The protagonists of Pushkin’s drama first entered the stage owing to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose eponymous opera premiered in 1879 in Moscow (the National Theatre in Prague first presented it a decade later, with the composer himself conducting).
John Cranko, who became acquainted with Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin when he choreographed the dances for a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera in 1952, created his adaptation in 1965 for the Stuttgarter Ballett, starring Marcia Haydée (Tatiana) and Ray Barra (Onegin).Two years later, he conceived its revised definitive version, which will now be staged at the National Theatre. The Czech audience had the first opportunity to see Cranko’s Onegin in 1982, when the Stuttgarter Ballett performed it at the Smetana Theatre (today’s State Opera).
The Czech National Ballet had the title in its repertoire between 2005 and 2012, with the company’s most distinguished soloists featured in the lead roles – Tereza Podařilová (whose portrayal of Tatiana earned her the Thalia Prize 2005) and Jiří Kodym (who received the Thalia Prize 2005 for his rendition of Onegin). Worthy of mention is the fact that they now work as ballet masters at the Czech National Ballet and participate in the current Onegin revival.The production visually evokes the atmosphere of Pushkin’s novel in verse, with the romantic impression being enhanced by the wonderful costumes designed by Elisabeth Dalton.
Besides Cranko’s enthralling choreography, the ballet’s success has been contributed to by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, who created the music. The score contains lesser-known Tchaikovsky pieces, without including a single note from the opera Eugene Onegin. Cranko and Stolze mainly worked with piano cycles and the symphonic fantasy Francesca da Rimini. The result is truly amazing. The revived Czech production of Cranko’s ballet will be accompanied by a live performance of the National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Václav Zahradník, who has explored the score.
John Cranko’s Onegin, deemed a treasure of the international ballet legacy, has been a staple of the repertoire of the major theatres worldwide. The Czech revival will receive its premiere at the National Theatre in Prague on 20 February 2020.