RUSSIA, THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY
Madame Larina’s Garden, Late Summer
Madame Larina and the nurse Filipyevna are sitting in the garden, while Larina’s daughters, Olga and Tatyana, sing a love song that reminds the older women of days gone by. Peasants arrive from the fields and celebrate the completion of the harvest with songs and dances. Olga taunts Tatyana for failing to enjoy the festivities. Tatyana remains pensive and apart, wrapped in the fantasy of her beloved novels. The poet Lenski, Olga’s fiancé, and his friend Yevgeny Onegin arrive. The four young people mingle, awkwardly at first. Onegin focuses all of his attention on Tatyana. Tatyana, whose only source of life experience has been reading sentimental novels, falls in love with him.
Tatyana persuades Filipyevna to speak of her first love and marriage. Filipyevna notices that Tatyana’s mind is wandering and asks if she is ill. Tatyana summons up courage to write a letter to Onegin, openly confessing that she loves him. The nurse is commissioned to deliver the letter.
Tatyana rushes into the garden where Onegin is looking for her. He appears and asks her to hear him out. Onegin admits he was touched by her letter, but adds that he isn’t the type of person to get into marriage. Though Tatyana has all the virtues Onegin might wish for in a woman, the most he can offer is brotherly love. He advises more emotional control and leaves her in despair.
Madame Larina’s house, several months later
A party celebrates Tatyana’s name day. As young couples glide merrily across the floor, the older guests sit watching and gossiping. Onegin dances with Tatyana but is clearly bored with the country people and their provincial attitudes, then he dances with Olga, who is very welcome him. Triquet, an elderly French tutor, serenades Tatyana with a song he has written in her honor. Lensky jealously confronts Onegin. The merrymaking stops. Madame Larina implores them not to quarrel in her house; Lensky cannot contain his rage at Onegin, who accepts his challenge to a duel.
By the frozen lake, at dawn
Lensky and his second, Zaretski, await Onegin. Reflecting on the folly of his brief life, and saddened by its now unalterable course, the young poet imagines his beloved Olga visiting his grave. Onegin arrives with his second. The two men sing a duet, in which each admits that they have acted rashly and would rather laugh together than fight, but pride and impulsiveness prevail. The duel is fought and Lensky is killed.
A palace hall in St. Petersburg
Several years later, after Onegin has traveled extensively, seeking to alleviate his boredom, he returns to Russia. Suddenly he recognizes Tatyana across the room, walking with poise and dignity. After interrogating Prince Gremin, Onegin learns that Tatyana is now Gremin’s wife. The older man tells of his marriage two years earlier and describes Tatyana as his life’s salvation. When Gremin introduces Onegin, Tatyana maintains her composure, excusing herself after a few words of polite conversation, and asks her husband Gremin to retire. Captivated, and for a moment speechless, Onegin dashes from the palace.
A few days later
Tatyana has agreed to meet Onegin in answer to an impassioned letter he has written her. When he falls at her feet, she remains controlled. Now that she has a rich and noble husband, she asks, does he desire her position or her shame? She recalls the days when they might have been happy; now he can bring her only grief. As Onegin’s pleas grow more ardent, Tatyana prays for courage. Suddenly finding strength, she rushes out, leaving the distraught Onegin behind.