Tchaikovsky, Queen of Spades, 1890
Friday 17th & 21st November
Back to Pushkin
Read the story of the opera that nearly
wasn’t Tchaikovsky’s here. Ten years after
Onegin and well after his brother had
prepared the libretto from the Pushkin story
for other composers, Tchaikovsky produced
this opera in 44 days. It premiered in 1890.
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades is
a first-rate example of great literature that's
further enlightened when set to great music. The
opera is based on a groundbreaking story by
Alexander Pushkin. In it, he wrote that "two
obsessions can no more exist in the same mind
than two bodies can exist in the same space." If
you doubt that statement, or think it's for the
best, just read the story — or have a listen to
Tchaikovsky's bleak, operatic version of the tale.
Then think again… Tchaikovsky's take on his story
is every bit as grim as the original — and maybe
grimmer, thanks to an extra layer of sentiment.
“Life is but a game”
Evening Standard on gambling: Tchaikovsky’s
The Queen of Spades could serve as a public
health warning about the perils of gambling. Its
three central characters all end up dead, one as a
direct result of his gambling obsession (which
grows from, and quickly replaces, his sexual
infatuation), the other two as collateral damage.
Operanews on obsession: Maybe it’s not the
greatest opera ever written, but it’s definitely the
gayest. Not literally, of course—there’s no
homosexual love—but subtextually: the hero is
bedevilled by a forbidden love (for a woman,
outside his class) and by an impossible desire (for a
confidential combination of cards)... Tchaikovsky, a
tormented and secret homosexual, knew
something of illicit obsessions… In a way, like
[Herman], he felt that life had dealt him a bad
hand —all queens of spades and no ace.
Gramophone on the psychodrama: While
Eugene Onegin is Tchaikovsky’s most popular
opera, there’s a fair argument that The Queen of
Spades is his best. A gripping drama, it requires
performances where you believe in Herman’s
psychological descent as the desire to learn the
secret of the three cards from the old Countess
consumes everything, including his love for Lisa.
Opera Barcelona 2010, Conducted by
Michael Boder, Hermann - Misha Didyk,
Lisa - Emily Magee.
A splendid version of the full opera, in the
Marinsky theatre with Gergiev
conducting, is on Youtube, introduced by
Charles Hazelwood. Herman is sung by
Vladimir Galouzine, the world leading
exponent of the role. English subtitles.
Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.
In praise of Hvorostovsky
Follow baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky through his career singing
‘Ja vas lyublyu’, Prince Yeletsky's Act 2 aria: