In honor of Alexander Pushkin's birthday (June 6, 1799) and in celebrating the TIPA Project's (Toward International Peace Through the Arts) re-nomination for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize, Marian Seldes read Chapter 1 and 2 of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin at St. Peter's Church at 54th and Lex today at lunchtime. I have gone occasionally to these TIPA poetry readings, but this one was my favorite yet. Before I saw the Tchaikovsky's glorious opera Eugene Onegin at the Met, I read Pushkin's novel in verse. Reading to myself is fine, but I couldn't pass up the chance to hear Marian read those verses to me. She asked me after if I liked it and of course I said I loved it. I told her that I read it before I saw the opera and she told me that she had seen the opera as well and exclaimed, "Wasn't it delicate?"
My favorite stanzas:
As often happened, he was still in bed:
Three notelets are brought him on a tray. -
What is it? Invitations? You don't say.
Three homes invite him for an evening out.
A ball here, then a birthday celebration.
Where then will my young idler hasten?
With whom will he start. It is not important.
He will have the time to cover them all.
Meanwhile, dressed in his morning finery
And donning his fashionable bolivar
He takes a carriage to the boulevard
And there parades in all his glory
Until his sleepless pocket watch
Tells him it is time for his dinner and scotch.
Already it darkens. In the sleigh he sits.
"Set off! Set off!" The cry is heard,
With frosty dust and rime now glistens
His beaver collar around his beard.
He speeds to Talon, for he is convinced
That there he will find his friend Kaverin.
He enters - a cork flies to the ceiling.
Some wine of comet vintage fizzes,
While roast beef all bloody on the table
And truffles, a luxury of younger years,
The greatest glory of French cuisine,
And Strasbourg tart all fresh and gleaming
With Limburg cheese all runny and spiced
And golden pineapple freshly sliced.
His thirst still needs another glass
To drown the cutlet's fiery fat,
But then his watch prompts him to note
That a new ballet is due to start.
A stern critic of the stage and law giver,
An inconstant and fickle admirer
Of all the enchanting actresses,
This respected inhabitant of the coulisses,
Onegin hastens to the theatre,
Where everyone, breathing freedom's air,
Prepares to clap an entrechat,
To hiss a Phaedrus, boo a Queen,
To shout for Moina, (only for one thing,
To make his own voice heard in the din).
Enchanted land! There, in year's gone by
With audacious mastery of satire
Fonvizin shone, freedom's defender,
And Knyazhnin, the famous imitator.
There Ozerov shared with young Semyonov
The spontaneous gift and tribute of
The people's tears and glad applause.
There our Katyenin resurrected
The majestic genius of Corneille,
And there sarcastic Shakhovsky
Produced a swarm of comedy,
And there Didelot was crowned with glory.
And there, just there, my young years sped,
Amidst the wings' and scenery's shade.
Ah, where are you fled? My dream, my goddesses?
Listen once more to my saddened voice.
Are you as before, or have other young misses
Replaced you, who are not a worthy choice?
Do I hear again the sound of your chorus?
Do I see a Russian Terpsichore
With lofty soul in the dance's flight?
Or does my gloomy vision find
No kindred face on the tedious stage,
And, fixing upon a foreign scene
A lorgnette full of disenchantment,
An indifferent spectator of merriment,
Silently will I yawn and sigh
Remembering all the years gone by?
The theatre is full, the boxes sparkle,
The stalls, the orchestra - all is in motion,
A slow handclap comes from the circle,
And the curtain rises in swift commotion.
All glistening, and almost ethereal,
Obedient to the magic bow,
A throng of nymphs around her now,
Istomena stands; then cautiously,
With one foot lightly on the ground
With the other she turns herself around,
Then a sudden leap, and now she's flying
A flight like down from Aeolus' mouth,
She twists her waist, and now untwists it,
While one foot spins, and the other one hits it.
All is applause... Onegin enters
And walks in the rows through people's feet,
Held at an angle, his lorgnette centres
Upon the boxes of unknown sweets;
He takes in at a glance the rows and tiers,
And sees it all: the faces, fashions,
Fill him with grisly, surly passion.
To the gentlemen on all sides he bows
Then to the stage at last directs
A glance of great indifference,
Then turns away - and then he yawns
And mutters "This lot is past its best,
The ballet I've endured too long,
And Didelot is not worth a song"