On Friday, Feb. 13 and Sunday, Feb. 15, Opera Idaho will perform Tchaikovsky's Evgeny Onegin at the Egyptian Theatre, and attendees can expect to hear some lovely singing—in Russian. Supertitles will be projected onto a screen for the benefit of opera lovers who don't have a working knowledge of Slavic languages, but one trouble remains: Many in attendance will discover this opera tells an unfamiliar story in a language they don't know. Evgeny Onegin is the opera adaptation of Aleksandr Pushkin's novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, and the spelling difference between these two works is a small taste of the controversy over how best to render about 5,000 lines of rhyming Russian poetry into as many lines of rhyming English poetry.
Fortunately, Boise's opera-going crowd can become experts on the source material prior to the performance with James Falen's 1990 translation of the poem, available for free in audiobook form as read by actor, comedian and author Stephen Fry of Blackadder, Wilde and A Bit of Fry and Laurie fame.
Falen's translation preserves Pushkin's unique sonnet structure while delivering on the original's wit and "Russian soul" in a bigger way than the bulk of rhyming translations. With Fry's sonorous, authoritative British voice, the poem sounds as dashing and lyrical as it reads on the printed page, making it an intriguing—yet painless—primer of this classic Russian work.