Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Tairov's Theater, Evreinov's Monodramatic Moment, and the Lessons of Eugene Onegin, a Drama in Verse

Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Tairov's Theater, Evreinov's Monodramatic Moment, and the Lessons of Eugene Onegin, a Drama in Verse

Article excerpt

Learning literature through theater is a bottomless source of excitement--and one reason, surely, is the sense of urgency imposed by performance. With novels, art exhibits, architectural monuments, even movies, the reader or spectator is boss. The story (as well as interesting theories that might explain the story) can be "paused," bookmarked, contemplated, revisited at will. But live music and live theater depend for their communication on the uninterrupted forward thrust of a concept. Polemical or ideologically-driven theater, so familiar to twentieth-century Eastern Europe, can begin with an idea or desired effect and then strap both set and cast to it. But a pragmatic approach to stage work is more often the rule. The concept works itself out intuitively during rehearsals, as a creation-in-process by those skilled practitioners in the temporal arts we call actors, musicians, dancers, projectionists, all the while being nourished here and there by a directorial hint or hunch. The ensemble succeeds (more or less well) on opening night, is tuned up throughout the run, and often it is only after the show is struck that principles emerge with the contours of a formal theory. Such was my experience co-managing, with Simon Morrison, Princeton University's production of a dramatic adaptation of Eugene Onegin in February 2012.

The Onegin project was the second of our all-campus "creative restorations" of a Pushkin Centennial project that fell casualty to the Stalinist cultural anti-revolution. Both paired a famous Moscow theater with a score by Sergei Prokofiev, who in 1936 had been lured back to Moscow partly by commissions to compose incidental music for stagings of the poet's greatest works. Our first restoration was Boris Godunov, musicalized but de-operatized, which had been scheduled to open in 1937 in Vsevolod Meyerhold's newly-constructed GosTiM theater off Gorky Street. But the production, the theater, and the director were all dead by 1940. The resurrected premiere of this Boris Godunov, undertaken at Princeton in 2007 in the spirit of Meyerhold's rehearsal notes but with a twenty-first-century set, was written up as a forum for Pushkin Review/ IIywkuhckuu becmhuk, volume 10 (2007): 1-46. The focus of that issue was the view from "inside the show": testimonials from the director and student cast, our worst and best moments up to opening night, how the Boris Tale shifted morally and historically when illustrated as tragedy or as comedy. This present Pushkin Review forum is devoted to our revival of the second commission from 1936: a dramatic adaptation, also with Prokofiev's music, of Evgenii Onegin, by Alexander Tairov's Moscow Chamber Theater (the Kamerny). The tasks here were less tragic but more delicate.

Tairov's Theater Takes on Pushkin's Greatest Book

Onegin the Play contained none of the potentially troubling political subtexts of tyranny, treason, Catholic Poland, or pretendership that the historical drama Boris had in such abundance. It is a love story. But the project was abandoned by its theater even earlier than Boris was by Meyerhold, in December 1936, after the orchestral parts had been prepared but before director, composer, or actors had sat down to serious table work, much less gotten up on a stage. Thus no memoirs were written, no "rehearsal diaries" by Tairov of the sort that Meyerhold was keeping so splendidly for Boris Godunov. The directorial record for Boris is so moving and dramatic in its own right that in June 2013, Vladimir Jurowski could stage Prokofiev's incidental music in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall as a dialogue between Meyerhold and Prokofiev, each speaking his own recorded words, with Tsar, Ksenia, and Holy Fool largely as backdrop. (1) Onegin at the Chamber Theater never generated that sort of theater history. In 2011, we inherited from various archives a fabulous musical score, a few scribbled-on typescripts of the play, and a dozen costume sketches--but no stage set and no transcripts of conversations that might have led to a "concept. …

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