Opera Scotland

Queen of Spades Pikovaya Dama

Music
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (born Kamsko-Votkinsk, 7 May 1840; died St Petersburg, 6 November 1893)

Text
Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer and others.

Source
Novella (1834) by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837).

Premieres
First performance: St Petersburg (Mariinsky Theatre), 19 December 1890.
First UK performance: London (London Opera House), 29 May 1915.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 18 August 1986 (probably earlier).
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 5 May 1998.

Background
Tchaikovsky’s last full-length opera, The Queen of Spades is a strange combination of the luridly dramatic, depicting the destruction of the three major characters through an obsession with cards, and the background setting of elegant eighteenth century St Petersburg, complete with pastiche music in an appropriate style. The two elements mingle uneasily at times, but the best sections are extraordinary. The music for Hermann and Lisa shows their desperate obsessions brilliantly, and the old countess is also very well drawn. Yeletsky, also in love with Lisa, and a far more suitable match, has a beautiful aria, and the other characters, particularly Tomsky and Paulina, also have opportunities to shine.

Main Characters
Hermann, a young officer (tenor)
Count Tomsky, an officer (baritone)
Tchekalinsky, an officer (tenor)
Surin, an officer (bass)
Prince Yeletsky (baritone)
The Countess (contralto)
Lisa, her grand-daughter (soprano)
Paulina, Lisa’s companion (mezzo-soprano)

Plot Summary
In a public park in St Petersburg a group of officers discuss the strange behaviour of Hermann – he watches them gambling night after night, but does not play himself. Yeletsky is congratulated on his engagement, and when Lisa walks in with her grandmother it is realised that she is Yeletsky’s intended, but also the girl Hermann has fallen for. Tomsky tells his friends the story of the cards – how the countess, in her youth, restored her fortunes at the gambling tables by using a winning formula given to her by a lover. Later that evening, after Paulina and her friends have left her alone, Lisa is disturbed in her room by the arrival of Hermann, via the balcony. After the countess has left her alone, he persuades Lisa to accept his love.

At a ball, Lisa is approached both by Yeletsky and Hermann. She agrees to elope with Hermann the next day, but he insists on coming that night. The guests are entertained by a classical masque in baroque style. Back at the palace, Hermann enters the old countess’s room, and he hides while her maids prepare her for sleep. He tries to wrest the secret of the cards from her. She resists, and when Hermann points a pistol at her she dies of fright. Lisa is bitter at how Hermann has used her. Later, in a vision, the countess tells him of the three secret cards. Lisa kills herself in desperation at Hermann’s continued obsession. He goes to the tables and loses heavily – the last card is not the Ace, but the Queen of Spades. He kills himself.

RECORDINGS

PHILIPS (3 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1992

Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Orchestra of Kirov Opera, St Petersburg
Gegam Gregorian (Hermann), Maria Guleghina (Lisa), Irina Arkhipova (Countess),

Valery Gergiev conducts a full-blooded dramatic performance that brings out the hysterical elements of the plot, especially from Gegam Gregorian as an appropriately unhinged Hermann. Maria Guleghina acts well, with a slight edge to the voice that suits the tensions of the role, without overdoing it. Irina Arkhipova, at the end of a lengthy career as the leading dramatic mezzo in the old Soviet Union, gives an excellent performance as the old countess. The Mariinsky company put some of their best singers into the smaller parts. Vladimir Chernov and Olga Borodina are especially good as Yeletsky and Paulina. Nikolai Putilin and Sergei Alexashkin also make an impression as Tomsky and Surin.

DG (3 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1977

Conductor: Mstislav Rostropovich Orchestra National de France

Peter Gougaloff (Hermann), Galina Vishnevskaya (Lisa), Regina Resnik (Countess).

This recording is now something of a classic, made soon after Rostropovich and his wife came to live in the west. Vishnevskaya is on excellent form, dramatic and with none of the shrillness she sometimes shows. The conducting is wonderfully dramatic. Regina Resnik seizes her opportunities to make the old Countess a riveting character. The rest of the cast consists of East Europeans comfortable with Russian: The East German Bernd Weikl gives a notable performance as Yeletsky. Hanna Schwarz, also more familiar in Wagner, makes a positive impression as Paulina. The least-known singer is perhaps the Hermann, a sadly short-lived Bulgarian tenor. Peter Gougaloff. His is a more lyrical, and less hysterical, voice than we usually hear in the role, and none the worse for that. He was a regular at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, and his only appearance in Britain was with that company at the 1975 Edinburgh Festival, when he made an excellent impression in the short but important role of Narraboth in Salome.

SONY (3 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1992

Conductor: Seiji Ozawa,
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Atlantov (Hermann), Mirella Freni (Lisa), Maureen Forrester (Countess),

Seiji Ozawa may not be a frequent performer in the opera houses of the world, but he is an experienced performer of Tchaikovsky, he has worked with the Boston Symphony for decades, and he was clearly given plenty of rehearsals. Vladimir Atlantov was a Bolshoi rather than a Kirov/Mariinsky star. He also gives a suitably dramatic rendering of Hermann. Mirella Freni took up several Russian roles late in her career, and she is good enough to make you wish she’d done them a few years earlier – the voice simply does not sound like a young woman. Maureen Forrester is a surprise package as the old countess – she acts astonishingly vividly for a singer not generally associated with opera. Again, the small roles are cast from strength, and the two baritones, Sergei Leiferkus and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, as Tomsky and Yeletsky, sound totally different as vocal types. Katherine Ciesinski also sings beautifully as Paulina.

The Cast

Chloe
 Prilepa in the masque
Count Tomsky
 an officer
Countess
 
Daphnis
 Milovzor in the masque
Governess
 to Lisa
Hermann
 a young officer
Lisa
 the Countess's grand-daughter
Masha
 Lisa's maid
Master of Ceremonies
 
Narumov
 a gambler
Pauline
 Lisa's companion
Plutus
 Zlatagor in the masque
Prince Yeletsky
 
Surin
 an officer
Tchaplitsky
 a gambler
Tchekalinsky
 an officer

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2017

Site by SiteBuddha