The Queen of Spades - Tchaikovsky - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

On Monday 21 May 2001 (my birthday) I was at ROH to see the production of Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades (or "Pique Dame"). The libretto is by the composer and his brother, Modest. The story, based on Pushkin's novella Rikovaya Dama concerns the love of Herman, a young officer, for Lisa, granddaughter and ward of an elderly Countess said to possess the secret of winning at cards with a special 3-card trick. Herman, in trying to extract the secret from the Countess frightens her to death. Later her ghost gives him what he supposes to be the winning combination but his downfall is brought about when he stakes all on the ace instead of the Queen of Spades. The opera is one of the few by Tchaikovsky to have gained a place in the repertory outside Russia.

Herman was played by Vladimir Galanzine and Lisa by the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila. She was the Winner of the first Cardiff Singer of the Year Competition 18 years ago. She is also one of the most up front and down-to-earth opera singers you could ever wish to meet, deliciously indiscreet and famously outspoken. She publicly criticised - in an interview she gave to the New York Times - the director of Cosi fan tutti at Salzburg Festival in which her role of Fiordiligi had her walking two semi-naked leather-bound young men on leashes like dogs. She was not amused nor was the Festival's Director when he read the interview. But she is back at Salzburg this summer!

Act I's main aria is "I chanced at Versailles. " Act II's is "I love you, dear. " and "Alas, my chosen swain" (a pastorals involving The Three Faithful Shepherds) Act III's famous aria is "Twill soon be midnight. "

A staging of the opera was tried several times at the ROH in the early 1950s but it never really captured the public's imagination. It needed four strong and individual characterised principals, a lavish production to do justice to the ornate and aristocratic 18th century setting and firm orchestration which the Royal Opera has now been able to give it.

Prince Yetetsky, Lisa's fiancee, is performed by Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Veteran Dame Josephine Barstow (leading soprano of an earlier generation) gives a vivid portrayal of the ancient and vindictive Countess (known in her youth at the Court of Versailles as the Venus of Moscow!!!) but even Barstow is somewhat upstaged by Frances McCafferty as the domineering governess.

The sets are suitably lavish and Mark McCullough's exquisite lighting really highlights the green baize of the card table in the final scene. It was gorgeous!


Verinha Ottoni.


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