James Levine on Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Conductor James Levine on Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin:

Eugene Onegin is very special, an incredibly successful piece; there is nothing quite like it. The character of Tatyana is so extraordinary. Tchaikovsky absorbed certain things from Pushkin’s original poem, and then composed his own opera, which of course angered some other great Russian artists, like Stanislavsky and Nabakov, who didn’t like the piece. But fortunately they have turned out to be a small minority. It’s been in a certain way a curiously controversial piece, because since its source is such a famous poem, a lot of very great artists will never feel that the music does any justice to the original. I don’t see how anyone can listen to the Letter Scene, the final scene or the Duel Scene and find them “pastel” or pale–it seems to me there’s a lot of spectacle and grandiosity in other operas which are basically a lot less dramatic; whereas the “big” scenes in this opera are at an absolute minimum.

Interview in Gramophone, March 1989, p.1389.
Cited in: Holmes, John (1993) Conductors on Composers. Westport: Greenwood, p. 191.