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. (NPR article)

“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.

Our Production

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: