Stuttgart Ballet's "Onegin", Wednesday, 20 February, 36th Hong Kong Arts Festival


The Stuttgart Ballet's performance of Onegin on Wednesday, 20 February, at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, was charming and pleasant, with stunning sets, wonderful costumes, some nice character-acting and doubtless accomplished, highly-trained and superbly executed dancing. The main characters on this occasion were danced by Ivan Gil Ortega (guest artist) as Onegin and Elena Tentchikowa as Tatiana. Marijn Rademaker took the part of Lensky, Onegin's friend and Laura O'Malley was Olga, Tatiana's sister.

My husband considered that what it lacked was the best of Tchaikovsky's music. It emerges that the omission was deliberate. -- When conceiving this production, first performed in 1965, it seems that John Cranko planned to use a musical score based on Tchaikovsky's opera, Eugene Onegin, but failed to get support for this idea. In response, Cranko's musical collaborator Kurt-Heinz Stolze wrote a completely new musical score for the ballet, based on a number of largely unknown compositions by Tchaikovsky, and the ballet does not contain "even one measure" from Tchaikovsky's opera. As Stolze said, "I have culled the music from various lesser-known compositions by Tchaikovsky and arranged most of it myself." (Kurt-Heinz Stolze as quoted in the 36th Hong Kong Arts Festival Programme Notes)

The Onegin of the ballet comes over, in effect, as a man who wants what he can't have and doesn't want what he can have. Not really a tragic hero, although certainly flawed. The really grand, moody, impassioned, yearning Tchaikovsky music that we know and love and revel in might have edged him towards this larger dimension.

We both agreed that, compared with the film, Onegin, starring Ralph Fiennes as Eugene Onegin, the ballet lacked intensity and burning passion, whether of love or despair.

Does this mean that words are "better"; that stage-acting and film-acting are "better"? -- Better able than classical ballet to convey emotions, when expressed through such a clear narrative as that which the late John Cranko's choreography and production so helpfully provide?

The ballet tells the story well and, with the help of the programme notes, it was easy enough to follow the action, even, I suppose, for those who knew neither its sources -- Alexander Pushkin's novel-in-verse and Tchaikovsky's opera -- nor its sibling, the film in which Ralph Fiennes plays. Paradoxically, this clear story-telling seemed to force too close a comparison with other dramatic forms, making the ballet seem less successful as a result, and diverting attention away from its own particular qualities of grace and athleticism and, yes, emotional expression too. -- GB

Notes on works:

  • Alexander Pushkin's novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin was first published in serial form, 1825-1832. First complete editions, 1833, 1837.
  • Tchaikovsky's opera, Eugene Onegin was composed 1877-1878, and first produced in 1879.
  • The original version of the ballet, Onegin, was performed in 1965 and a new version was first performed in 1967.
  • The film Onegin, directed by Martha Fiennes, with her brother Ralph Fiennes as an intense, brooding and finally despairing Onegin, was first released in 2001.

Notes on people;

  • Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)
  • Pyotor Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
  • John Cranko (1927-1973)
  • Kurt-Heinz Stolze (1926-1970)

(Sources: 36th Hong Kong Arts Festival Programme Notes and various online reference works.) -- GB