It was Alexander Pushkin’s literature heritage to whom Vissarion G. Belinsky, the most influential Russian critic of the 19th century and Pushkin’s contemporary, dedicated the greater part of his articles and reviews. Belinsky regarded Pushkin’s heritage as a great social and artistic phenomenon. Having experienced the powerful influence of Pushkin’s works, Belinsky particularly emphasized their substantiality, richness in content, and perfection of form. In his numerous book reviews, Belinsky concentrated a special attention on “Eugene Onegin”, Pushkin’s novel in verse. According to Belinsky, it was Pushkin’s key literary work in which the author’s entire personality, views, and ideals were reflected. Except its literary advantages, the novel in verse also has a great historical and social meaning: “Eugene Onegin” is a kind of (re)created picture of the Russian society structured in verse and depicted in one of the most interesting moments of its development. In this sense, “Eugene Onegin” is a historical novel (though there are no historical figures among its characters)[i]. Belinsky regarded “Onegin” as a novel with deep content. Every figure in it expresses a typical and important side of the then contemporary society and way of life. Deep and fine socio-psychological analysis of the figures enabled the critic to affirm that Pushkin (re)created in “Onegin” the entire Russian reality with astonishing faithfulness. This was the reason for a well-known Belinsky’s saying about “Eugene Onegin” as “an encyclopaedia of Russian life”[ii].
On the other hand, Belinsky explained Pushkin’s genius by the fact that before him there were no other attempts at creating novels in verse in Russian which aimed to have literary value, works addressed not only to the nobility but to the whole nation. It is common knowledge that, due to European influence in the 18th - 19th century, Russian language was used only as a colloquial language or by peasants. The aristocracy mostly spoke European languages and preferred books in languages other than Russian. So under such conditions, Russian literature lacked works (with some exceptions) appealing to the national character and identity.
When this crucial work of Russian literature is also considered as a possible platform for theatrical expression, its poetic structure opens new horizons both for audience’s perception and for performative analysis. In this sense, I will analyse mediating practices of two different performances of “Eugene Onegin”. The first was staged by the legendary theatrical director Yuri Lyubimov at the famous avant-garde Taganka Theatre in Moscow in June 2000, one year after Pushkin’s 200th anniversary. The second was produced in November 2011 at the German theatre Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin by Latvian director Alvis Hermanis. The principle of the tempo-rhythm[iii] by reciting the “Onegin stanza” or the iambic tetrameter, determined the mediating practices of Lyubimov’s performance: Lyubimov referred to Pushkin himself and affirmed that the poet sang and tapped his foot by reciting his own verse[iv]. Alvis Hermanis’ version focused on the Russian way of life during Pushkin’s times; the mediating concept – except the specially designed stage set and historical costumes – mostly involved these costumes and the set elements in the actors’ embodiment and historical commentaries while narrating the plot.