Eugene Onegin: A Scenic Projection

Locating and Preparing the Krzhizhanovsky Evgenii Onegin Typescript

In Moscow in March 2007, researching what would become chapter 3, “The Pushkin Centennial,” in his monograph The People’s Artist: Pro–kofiev’s Soviet Years (Oxford University Press, 2009), Simon Morrison came across a play script in the Prokofiev holdings of the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art (RGALI) with the title «Евгений Онегин. Сценическая проэкция». Musical cues in the margins were by Prokofiev, of that Morrison had no doubt: the composer’s handwriting is distinct, as is his shorthand orthography. He frequently omitted vowels, for example, “8 bars” (8 тактов) becomes 8 тктв; “music of a psychological character,” музкапсихолог. хрктера; the word “fated” (from Tatyana’s Letter), сждно. Practiced Prokofiev scholars have no problem decoding these abbreviations. Morrison transcribed the slight but intriguing musical markings and alerted his colleague Caryl Emerson to the existence of this text. On a return research trip in the summer of 2007, Morrison received a hard copy of the play script, which he handed over to Emerson (also in Moscow at the time) in a local café—with the promise to “publish some­thing on this unrealized project.” Although the name of the stage adaptor, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, was unknown to her, she was so struck by the boldness, yet uncanny fidelity, of the play to the novel that within two weeks she was at work on a translation. This non-metric English version, with an introductory essay on Krzhizhanovsky’s project, appeared in 2008, in Sergey Prokofiev and His World (ed. Simon Morrison).

Although never published, the Russian play script was not unknown. Or rather, it was known through negative criticism of it. In 1973, Prokofiev’s scattered Eugene Onegin music was reassembled, edited, and published by the Soviet musicologist Elizaveta Dattel´. She noted Krzhi­zhanovsky’s play in the commentary, but dismissed it as a violation of Pushkin’s novel, Prokofiev’s score, and Tairov’s theatrical intent. One year later, in 1974, Melodiya issued an LP of Prokofiev’s 44 musical numbers for Onegin based on the Dattel´ edition, stitching the episodes together with a voice-over of appropriate stanzas extracted from Pushkin. The actual play script—the text to which the music was written, its immediate prompt—was everywhere reduced to an embarrassment obscuring the genius of Pushkin and the genius of Prokofiev.

Passions have always run high on transpositions of Russian classics. Without a performance history, the verdict on this one is still out. But with this publication, we hope to restore the complexity of the textual field.

—Caryl Emerson


When first discussing the publication of Krzhizhanovsky’s play in the Pushkin Review, Caryl Emerson and I both thought that printing a facsimile of the typescript would be ideal. The typescript, however, resists replication. In several places letters and punctuation marks bled through one page to impose themselves on another; they would look like typo­graphical or grammatical errors in a facsimile. In other passages, faded typewritten lines would become close to illegible. Also, Prokofiev’s hand­written notes in the margins are sometimes faint, and nearly all of them would be indecipherable if the typescript were scanned and then reduced to fit the 6" x 9" format of the journal.

Realizing that a facsimile would be less readable than a transcription, and therefore less useful to directors wishing to stage the play, we decided to follow the precedent set by Joseph Peschio and Igor Pil´shchikov, who published typographical transcriptions of archival manuscripts from the Green Lamp Society in volume 15 of the Pushkin Review. The version of Krzhizhanovsky’s play, as published here, was transcribed by the journal’s Assistant Editors—Rebecca Johnston, Shane Logue, and Paul Osborne—who meticulously preserved the typescript’s idiosyncrasies. Ultimately, however, we decided that preserving Krzhizhanovsky’s typographical errors served little purpose. I therefore proofread the text and adjusted the formatting while adding transcriptions of Prokofiev’s handwritten comments. The text now conforms to the general standards for American play scripts, so as to improve itsreadability and its usefulness to directors. Hopefully it comes close to the author’s intention at this stage in the evolution of the play script. To provide some feel for the archival text, however, we have scanned and reproduced “Fragment Seven” of the type­script.

When reading the Russian text of the play, one should keep the following in mind:

  • Sometimes Krzhizhanovsky left large gaps in a line, so that words in Latin script could be added later, presum­ably by a non-Cyrillic typewriter. These phrases (mostly French, some Italian) are occasionally written in. Such mo­ments were retained in the transcription. In such in­stances, the word in question has been retained when possible.
  • All handwritten words and phrases have been included in italics. A smaller font was used for comments written in the margins. Handwritten comments in the typescript correspond as closely as possible with their proximity to given lines in the typescript.
  • Other markings—such as lines, arrows, and brackets—have been reproduced as accurately as possible.

—Ivan Eubanks