The online opera guide of Pjotr Tchaikovsky’s aria PUSKAI POGIBNU YA (letter scene)
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The aria PUSKAI POGIBNU YA – synopsis and background
Synopsis: On Larins country estate. Larina thinks back to her youth when she was unable to marry an officer she loved. She listens to her two daughters while the peasant girls sing Russian folk songs in the background. The two sisters couldn’t be more different in character. Olga is cheerful and exuberant, Tatjana is dreamy and introverted. Lenski appears. He is a poet and neighbour who loves Olga passionately… He is accompanied by Onegin, a neighbor and aristocrat. While Lenski is a passionate man, Onegin, a cool rationalist, was a man of pleasure for a long time and has been bored on his uncle’s estate for some time. Tatjana goes for a walk with Onegin, she feels strangely attracted to him while Onegin seems rather aloof. In the evening she can’t fall asleep. The sensitive Tatjana has become aware that she has fallen in love with Onegin. She sits down at her desk and writes Onegin a rapturous love letter. The same evening she has the letter brought to Onegin.
The letter scene is one of the great monologues of opera history. In this famous scene Tatjana goes through all the emotions. From hopeless despair to ecstatic high spirits. The monologue is divided into four sections, each of which could stand alone.
The introduction describes Tatjana’s ardent longing. The vibrating tremolo of the strings reflects the inner restlessness and discord.
The change of the orchestral introduction to rapid semiquavers with plucked eighths of the excited heartbeat imitate her excitement about whether to write the letter. Soon Tatjana begins with her decision: “Puskai pogibnu y” (“And if it were my end”):
The singing becomes more feverish, increasing waves up to the high A flat end with the decision to sit down at the desk immediately “vezdy, on predo mnoyu!”
When Tatjana sits down at her desk, she falls silent, the orchestra calms down and begins with a new, this time calm introduction:
Tatiana’s leitmotif is audible in the strings:
She takes the pen in her hand, but after a few bars she falters, what should she write? Onegin’s motif appears, repeated tenderly sung several times in the oboe:
But she hesitates: “ne v silakh ya vladyet svoyei dushoi!” (“I do not have the strength to subdue my heart!”). What is the alternative? Tchaikovsky quotes Tatiana’s solitude motif in the flutes:
With Onegin’s motif in the orchestra she begins to write (“zachem vi posetili nas?”, “Why did you visit us?”), she reveals everything. She writes the confession of her agony. Tchaikovsky increases the tempo more and more, the music becomes more and more urgent. Then the mood changes suddenly when the oboe sings the motive of the confession of love:
At first Tatjana hesitantly takes up the motif tenderly: “Kto ti: moi angel li khranitel” (“Who are you? My guardian angel or a wily tempter?”). The fear of rejection is great, but she wants to try. As she signs the letter, glorious brass and cheering strings sound and Tatjana ends the aria with trembling words.
The Aria – the text of PUSKAI POGIBNU YA
Let me perish, but first
let me summon, in dazzling hope,
bliss as yet unknown.
Life’s sweetness is known to me!
I drink the magic potion of desire!
I am beset by visions!
Everywhere, everywhere I look,
I see my fatal tempter!
Wherever I look, I see him!
(She goes to the writing table, sits down, writes, then pauses.)
No, that’s all wrong!
I’ll begin again!
(she tears up the unfinished letter)
Ah, what’s the matter with me! I’m all on fire!
I don’t know how to begin!
(She writes, then pauses and reads it over.)
‘I write to you, – and then?
What more is there to say?
Now, I know, it is within your power
to punish me with disdain!
But if you nourish one grain of pity
for my unhappy lot,
you will not abandon me.
At first I wished to remain silent;
then, believe me, you would never
have known my shame,
(She puts the letter aside.)
O yes, I swore to lock within my breast
this avowal of a mad and ardent passion.
Alas, I have not the strength to subdue my heart!
Come what may, I am prepared!
I will confess all! Courage!
He shall know all!
‘Why, oh why did you visit us?
Buried in this remote countryside,
I should never have known you,
nor should I have known this torment.
The turbulence of a youthful heart,
calmed by time, who knows? –
most likely I would have found another,
have proved a faithful wife
and virtuous mother…’
(She becomes lost in thought, then rises suddenly.)
Another! No, not to any other in the world
would I have given my heart!
It is decreed on high,
It is the will of heaven: I am yours!
My whole life has been a pledge
of this inevitable encounter;
I know this: God sent you to me,
you are my keeper till the grave!
You appeared before me in my dreams;
as yet unseen, you were already dear,
your wondrous gaze filled me with longing,
your voice resounded in my heart
long ago … no, it was no dream!
As soon as you arrived, I recognized you,
I almost swooned, began to blaze with passion,
and to myself I said: ‘Tis he!’Tis he!
I know it! I have heard you …
Have you not spoken to me in the silence
when I visited the poor
or sought in prayer some solace
for the anguish of my soul?
And just this very moment,
was it not you, dear vision,
that flamed in the limpid darkness
stooped gently at my bedside
and with joy and love
whispered words of hope?
(She returns to the table and sits down again to write.)
‘Who are you’? My guardian angel
or a wily tempter?
Put my doubts at rest.
Maybe this is all an empty dream,
the self?deception of an inexperienced soul,
and something quite different is to be …’
(She rises again and paces pensively to and fro.)
But so be it! My fate
henceforth I entrust to you;
in tears before you,
your protection I implore,
Imagine: I am all alone here!
No one understands me!
I can think no more,
and must perish in silence!
I wait for you,
I wait for you! Speak the word
to revive my heart’s fondest hopes
or shatter this oppressive dream
with, alas, the scorn,
alas, the scorn I have deserved!
(She goes swiftly to the table, hurriedly finishes the letter and signs and seals it.)
Finished! It’s too frightening to read over,
I swoon from shame and fear,
but his honour is my guarantee
and in that I put my trust!
(She goes to the window and draws aside the curtains. The room is immediately flooded with a rosy dawnlight. A shepherd’s pipe is heard in the distance.)
Ah, night is past,
everything is awake …
and the sun is rising.
The shepherd is playing his pipe …
Everything is peaceful.
While I … I …
Famous interpretations of PUSKAI POGIBNU YA
Anna Netrebko’s letter scene is simply great. She masters the intimate parts of this piece, her singing is subtle, the piani are breathtaking, only to create ecstatic top notes a little later in great embers from the full throat.
Puskai pogibnu ya – Netrebko
Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide to the aria “PUSKAI POGIBNU YA” from the opera “Eugene Onegin” from Pjotr Tchaikovsky