I’m not sure I could sum up the plot of Onegin in song titles, but it does remind me of my favorite book on opera, French psychoanalytic critic/philosopher/opera lover Catherine Clément, whose book Opera, of the Undoing of Women must be the most idiosyncratic work about the art form.
For Clément, the Tchaikovsky version of the Pushkin novel-in-verse is about making jam. And she’s not kidding. She writes, ‘this is certainly the only opera that starts with preserves’ (79). But’ then she clarifies: ‘Eugene Onegin, or how girls repeat their mothers’ history’ (ibid.).
If the opera is any guide, making jam seems to require lots of sitting – not good for a danced version. But John Cranko’s ballet begins on the themes that Clément noted: reflections on love, youth, and life, the domestic cycle that propels the Pushkin work. Making jam is part of the process, and a reminder for us all that life moves irrevocably forward. Cranko’s ballet, like the original Pushkin poem and the Tchaikovsky opera remind us that timing is everything.