Onegin’s characterization as a know-it-all includes an ironical mention that
He was without that dithyrambic
frenzy which wrecks our lives for sound,
and telling trochee from iambic
was quite beyond his wit, we found […][i].
To highlight the irony, they moved the word stress in this stanza: in a contrast dialog one actor pronounced the “false” version, and the other “verified” him immediately and spoke the verse with the correct word stress. This intentionally involved the stylistic means of atonality to break the tempo-rhythmic structure of the scene and so stressed the meaning of the rhythm in the poem.
Another medium used by acting to illustrate the rhythm of the Onegin stanza was closing and opening the curtains on the showcases in time to reciting the stanza. The description of the morning in St. Petersburg with its seething and bubbling life was transferred to stage with the rhythmic sound of the closing curtains:
while Petersburg's already rousing,
untirable, at sound of drum:
the merchant's up, the cabman's walking
towards his stall, the pedlar's hawking;
see with their jugs the milk-girls go
and crisply crunch the morning snow.
The city's early sounds awake her;
shutters are opened and the soft
blue smoke of chimneys goes aloft,
and more than once the German baker,
punctilious in his cotton cap,
has opened up his serving-trap[ii].
Lyubimov could not help including the rhythm of a lullaby in his production. Calming melody of a going-to-bed-song reflected both the traditional way children were brought to bed in Russia and the fact that Pushkin was brought up by the nanny who also sang lullabies to him when he was a child. The performers folded the ends of the curtain, imitating the falling asleep babies, and sang the following text of Pushikin’s stanza while shaking the “babies” :
Exhausted by the ballroom's clamour,
converting morning to midnight,
he sleeps, away from glare and glamour,
this child of luxury and delight.
Pushkin was of African origin: his grand grand father Abraham Hannibal was adopted by Peter І. Appealing to “my Africa” in one sonnet Pushkin hints at his origin from the mother side. That is why Lyubimov reflected this sonnet in African rhythms. Actors produced African-tribe-like-music by quick rhythmic closing and opening of the curtains and by drumming on their high hats:
When comes my moment to untether?
``it's time!'' and freedom hears my hail.
I walk the shore,I watch the weather,
I signal to each passing sail.
Beneath storm's vestment, on the seaway,
battling along that watery freeway,
when shall I start on my escape?
It's time to drop astern the shape
of the dull shores of my disfavour,
and there, beneath your noonday sky,
my Africa,where waves break high,
to mourn for Russia's gloomy savour,
land where I learned to love and weep,
land where my heart is buried deep[iv].
The introduction of Onegin’s neighbour, landowner Vladimir Lensky, was performed with balalaika accompaniment and was sung in the form of a simple rhyming poem called in Russian chastushka. The ironic nature of chastushka and the manner of its singing refer to the peasant popular culture. This, in turn, created the humorous effect in Lensky’s description:
Meanwhile another new landowner
came driving to his country seat,
and, in the district, this persona
drew scrutiny no less complete --
Vladimir Lensky, whose creator
was Göttingen, his alma mater,
good-looking, in the flower of age,
a poet, and a Kantian sage.
He'd brought back all the fruits of learning
from German realms of mist and steam,
freedom's enthusiastic dream,
a spirit strange, a spirit burning,
an eloquence of fevered strength,
and raven curls of shoulder-length[v].
An effective means to show the effect of stanza was the “riding”-rhythm in a
dialogue between Onegin and Lensky on their back way after visiting the
Larins. Modifications with the curtains (e.g. the imitation of a carriage window, carrying of the bridle etc.) and a typical shuttling of the body while riding corresponded with the text itself:
``But tell me, which one was Tatyana?''
``She was the one who looked as still
and melancholy as Svetlana,
and sat down by the window-sill.''
``The one you love's the younger daughter?''
``Why not?'' ``I'd choose the other quarter
if I, like you, had been a bard.
Olga's no life in her regard:
the roundest face that you've set eyes on,
a pretty girl exactly like
any Madonna by Van Dyck:
a dumb moon, on a dumb horizon.''
Lensky had a curt word to say
and then sat silent all the way[vi].
Repetition of one and the same word can also be crucial for the tempo-rhythmic effect. For Tatyana’s Letter to Onegin, Lyubimov used the record with the voice of the legendary actress of the Maly Theatre, Alexandra Yablochkina. Two male actors wearing female bonnets embodied in the middle showcase, Tatyana’s monologue as if Tatyana spoke it to her nanny. This grotesque scene was interrupted when the recorded voice began to stumble over the word “thought”. The trick of a “damaged tape” made the actor embody reverie six or seven times to a comic effect:
[…] I might have seen you, heard you speak
on visits to us, and in greeting
I might have said a word, and then
thought, day and night, and thought
[V. V. – and thought… and thought … and thought… and thought[vii]]
One of the most effective acting techniques was the echo-effect and light blinking when performing Tatyana’s dream.
The last syllable of the last word in a line was echoed by the actors and accompanied with the blinking of small lights.
The actors stood in the showcases and held lights in their hands. They whispered the rhyme loudly and by echoing switched on and off the lights so that the audience could see the upper and the lower part of actors’ faces in turns. The echo-rhythm, together with whispering voices, achieved the tension of Tatyana’s dream:
[…] a dog with horns, a goatee'd witch,
a rooster head, and on the twitch
a skeleton jerked by a cable,
a dwarf with tail, and a half-strain,
a hybrid cross of cat and crane[ix].