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Rejection Revisited: 'Eugene Onegin'

Falling in love may be one of life's most delicious moments, but it almost always involves going out on a precarious emotional limb.

For example, chances are that at some point in your life, a sudden romantic impulse led you to reveal your love to someone who may or may not have returned those feelings — throwing caution to the wind, in hope of a joyful result. Today, that revelation might be delivered in a phone call, an e-mail or even a text message. In

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's day, that sort of confession was more likely to arrive in a letter.

When Tchaikovsky sat down to write Eugene Onegin in the spring of 1877, it was a case of life imitating art. The thing that attracted Tchaikovsky to the original story, by Alexander Pushkin, was a powerful scene in which the heroine, Tatyana, decides to profess her love in a letter to a man she has met only once.

Just weeks before, Tchaikovsky had retrieved his own mail to find a fervent love letter from a former student he had met at the Moscow Conservatory. At first, Tchaikovsky refused her. But her letters kept coming, and became more and more passionate. It's been said that Tchaikovsky identified so strongly with Pushkin's Tatyana, and was so angered at the callous character Onegin, that the composer gave in to his own admirer.

In the space of a few months, the composer found himself married — and with an opera already two-thirds complete. Tchaikovsky's marriage lasted three months. The drama that grew out of it has lasted a bit longer: It's still his most popular opera more than 125 years later.

In this edition of World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, a quintessentially Russian drama, in a production from a historic hotbed of Italian opera: the venerable Teatro Carlo Felice, in Genoa.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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