Oda Slobodskaya was a singer who was never properly appreciated. She left Russia and lived abroad at a time when knowledge of and demand for Russian music were far less widespread than they are now.

I would emphasize the placement of her voice. It is always in a resonant place. Doing this in the Russian language, requires a great deal of effort.

A little background. This is Tatiana’s letter scene from Act I, scene II of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The opera is based on a verse novel by Alexander Pushkin.

Tatiana is about 15 years old, and one of the challenges of the aria is to make it sound as if a 15-year-old were singing it.

Time: The 1820s
Place: St Petersburg and surrounding countryside
Scene 1: The garden of the Larin country estate
Madame Larina and the nurse Filippyevna are sitting outside in the garden. They can hear Madame Larina’s two daughters, Tatiana and her younger sister Olga, singing a love song. Filippyevna announces that visitors have arrived: Olga’s fiancé Lensky, a young poet, and his friend Eugene Onegin, visiting the area from St Petersburg. The pair are shown in and Lensky introduces Onegin to the Larin family. Tatiana is immediately and strongly attracted to Onegin. Lensky expresses his delight at seeing Olga and she responds flirtatiously. Onegin tells Tatyana of his boredom in the country and describes the death of his uncle and his subsequent inheritance of a nearby estate. Filippyevna recognizes that Onegin has had a profound effect on Tatiana.

Scene 2: Tatiana’s room
Tatiana is dressed for bed. Restless and unable to sleep, she asks her nurse Filippyevna to tell her about her youth and early marriage. Tatiana confesses that she is in love. Left alone, Tatyana pours out her feelings in a letter to Onegin. She tells him that she loves him and believes that she will never feel this way about anyone else, and begs him to understand and help her. She finishes writing the letter at dawn. A shepherd’s pipe is heard in the distance. Filippyevna enters the room to wake Tatiana. Tatiana persuades her to send her grandson to deliver the letter to Onegin.

ТАТЬЯНА.
Пускай погибну я, но прежде
я в ослепительной надежде
блаженство темное зову,
я негу жизни узнаю!

Я пью волшебный яд желаний!
меня преследуют мечты!
Везде, везде передо мной
Мой искуситель роковой!
Везде, везде, он предо мною!

(Быстро пишет, но тотчас же рвет написанное)

Нет, все не то! Начну сначала!
Ах, что со мной! я вся горю!
Не знаю, как начать…

 

(Задумывается, потом снова начинает писать.)

Я к вам пишу, – чего же боле?
Что я могу еще сказать?
Теперь я знаю, в вашей воле
Меня презреньем наказать!
Но вы, к моей несчастной доле
Хоть каплю жалости храня,
Вы не оставите меня.
Сначала я молчать хотела;
Поверьте, моего стыда
Вы не узнали б никогда,
Никогда!..

(Задумывается.)

О да, клялась я сохранить в душе
Признанье в страсти пылкой и безумной!
Увы! не в силах я владеть своей душой!
Пусть будет то, что быть должно со мной! Ему признаюсь я! Смелей! Он все узнает!

(Продолжает писать.)

Зачем, зачем вы посетили нас?
В глуши забытого селенья
Я б никогда не знала вас,
Не знала б горького мученья.
Души неопытной волненья
Смирив, со временем, (как знать?)
По сердцу я нашла бы друга,
Была бы верная супруга
И добродетельная мать…

 

Другой! Нет, никому на свете
Не отдала бы сердца я!
То в вышнем суждено совете,
То воля неба: я твоя!
Вся жизнь моя была залогом
Свиданья верного с тобой;

Я знаю: ты мне послан Богом
До гроба ты хранитель мой.
Ты в сновиденьях мне являлся,
Незримый, ты уж был мне мил,
Твой чудный взгляд меня томил,
В душе твой голос раздавался.
Давно … нет, это был не сон!
Ты чуть вошел, я вмиг узнала…
Вся обомлела, запылала,
И в мыслях молвила: вот он!
Вот он!

 

 

Не правда ль! Я тебя слыхала…
Ты говорил со мной в тиши,
Когда я бедным помогала,
Или молитвой услаждала
Тоску волнуемой души?
И в это самое мгновенье
Не ты ли, милое виденье,
В прозрачной темноте мелькнул,
Приникнув тихо к изголовью?
Не ты ль с отрадой и любовью
Слова надежды мне шепнул?
Кто ты, мой ангел ли хранитель
Или коварный искуситель?
Мои сомненья разреши.
Быть может, это все пустое,
Обман неопытной души,
И суждено совсем иное?..
Но так и быть! Судьбу мою
Отныне я тебе вручаю,
Перед тобою слезы лью,
Твоей защиты умоляю,
Умоляю!
Вообрази: я здесь одна!
Никто меня не понимает!
Рассудок мой изнемогает,
И молча гибнуть я должна!
Я жду тебя,
Я жду тебя! Единим словом
Надежды сердца оживи,
Иль сон тяжелый перерви.

Увы, заслуженным укором!
Кончаю, страшно перечесть
Стыдом и страхом замираю,
Но мне порукой ваша честь.
И смело ей себя вверяю!

TAT’YANA.
Puskay pogibnu ya, no prezhde
ya v oslepitel’noy nadezhde
blazhenstvo temnoye zovu,
ya negu zhizni uznayu!

Ya p’yu volshebnyy yad zhelaniy!
menya presleduyut mechty!
Vezde, vezde peredo mnoy
Moy iskusitel’ rokovoy!
Vezde, vezde, on predo mnoyu!

(Bystro pishet, no totchas zhe rvet napisannoye)

Net, vse ne to! Nachnu snachala!
Akh, chto so mnoy! ya vsya goryu!
Ne znayu, kak nachat’…

 

(Zadumyvayetsya, potom snova nachinayet pisat’.)

Ya k vam pishu, – chego zhe bole?
Chto ya mogu yeshche skazat’?
Teper’ ya znayu, v vashey vole
Menya prezren’yem nakazat’!
No vy, k moyey neschastnoy dole
Khot’ kaplyu zhalosti khranya,
Vy ne ostavite menya.
Snachala ya molchat’ khotela;
Pover’te, moyego styda
Vy ne uznali b nikogda,
Nikogda!..

(Zadumyvayetsya.)

O da, klyalas’ ya sokhranit’ v dushe
Priznan’ye v strasti pylkoy i bezumnoy!
Uvy! ne v silakh ya vladet’ svoyey dushoy!
Pust’ budet to, chto byt’ dolzhno so mnoy! Yemu priznayus’ ya! Smeley! On vse uznayet!

(Prodolzhayet pisat’.)

Zachem, zachem vy posetili nas?
V glushi zabytogo selen’ya
Ya b nikogda ne znala vas,
Ne znala b gor’kogo muchen’ya.
Dushi neopytnoy volnen’ya
Smiriv, so vremenem, (kak znat’?)
Po serdtsu ya nashla by druga,
Byla by vernaya supruga
I dobrodetel’naya mat’…

 

Drugoy! Net, nikomu na svete
Ne otdala by serdtsa ya!
To v vyshnem suzhdeno sovete,
To volya neba: ya tvoya!
Vsya zhizn’ moya byla zalogom
Svidan’ya vernogo s toboy;

 

Ya znayu: ty mne poslan Bogom
Do groba ty khranitel’ moy.
Ty v snoviden’yakh mne yavlyalsya,
Nezrimyy, ty uzh byl mne mil,
Tvoy chudnyy vzglyad menya tomil,
V dushe tvoy golos razdavalsya.
Davno … net, eto byl ne son!
Ty chut’ voshel, ya vmig uznala…
Vsya obomlela, zapylala,
I v myslyakh molvila: vot on!
Vot on!

 

Ne pravda l’! Ya tebya slykhala…
Ty govoril so mnoy v tishi,
Kogda ya bednym pomogala,
Ili molitvoy uslazhdala
Tosku volnuyemoy dushi?
I v eto samoye mgnoven’ye
Ne ty li, miloye viden’ye,
V prozrachnoy temnote mel’knul,
Priniknuv tikho k izgolov’yu?
Ne ty l’ s otradoy i lyubov’yu
Slova nadezhdy mne shepnul?
Kto ty, moy angel li khranitel’
Ili kovarnyy iskusitel’?
Moi somnen’ya razreshi.
Byt’ mozhet, eto vse pustoye,
Obman neopytnoy dushi,
I suzhdeno sovsem inoye?..
No tak i byt’! Sud’bu moyu
Otnyne ya tebe vruchayu,
Pered toboyu slezy l’yu,
Tvoyey zashchity umolyayu,
Umolyayu!

Voobrazi: ya zdes’ odna!
Nikto menya ne ponimayet!
Rassudok moy iznemogayet,
I molcha gibnut’ ya dolzhna!
Ya zhdu tebya,
Ya zhdu tebya! Yedinim slovom
Nadezhdy serdtsa ozhivi,
Il’ son tyazhelyy perervi.

Uvy, zasluzhennym ukorom!
Konchayu, strashno perechest’
Stydom i strakhom zamirayu,
No mne porukoy vasha chest’.
I smelo yey sebya vveryayu!

TATYANA
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,
never!’

(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!

(She writes.)

‘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…’

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,
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!

Another famous Tatiana.

Freni as Tatiana.

Oda Slobodskaya
December 10, 1888 – 30 July 30, 1970

Oda Slobodskaya was born into a Jewish family in Vilnius, Lithuania. In 1888, this was still part of the Russian Empire. She won a scholarship for secondary education. From amateur singing efforts she was aware she had musical gifts, and in 1907 she applied for an audition at the St Petersburg Conservatoire (300 miles away), where she was accepted and was awarded a scholarship. She made her debut 1917 as Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades at the Mariinsky Theatre. She also sang the regular repertoire there, including the roles of Marguerite in Faust and Aida. The revolution and civil war brought many ups-and-downs. In 1921 she escaped to Berlin. Early success in Germany brought a call from Diaghilev to join him in Paris to star in the premiere of Stravinsky’s opera Mavra. She appeared as Mavra in 1922. She developed an active career in England, establishing herself as an authoritative interpreter of Russian songs in recital; she also joined the faculty of the Guildhall School of Music.