COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
ALBUM TITLE: Queen of Spades
PERFORMER: Vladimir Galouzine, Hasmik Papian, Irina Bogatcheva, Nikolai Putilin, Ludovic Tezier, Christianne Stotjin, Vsevolod Grivnov, Sergei Stilmachenko, Irina Tchistjakova; Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra national de Paris/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky; dir. Lev
Queen of Spades is Tchaikovsky’s most powerful opera, though by no means his most perfect: the proportion of scene-setting to action is unquestionably too high. As always, Tchaikovsky is interested in obsession, but for once the obsession is not love, but gambling. The progress of Hermann, the central figure, towards madness and the elimination of every other interest in his life but ‘the cards’ is traced with terrible vividness and conviction. Meanwhile Hermann’s loving Lisa comes to realise that she is only, for him, a means to the end of discovering the secret of winning from the Countess. Unable to cope with the realisation that Hermann doesn’t care for her, Lisa despairs and drowns herself.


Though the composer’s brother adapted the libretto from Pushkin,

he made many radical changes.

Quite mistakenly, if not idiotically, Lev Dodin, the director of this version from Paris, has pulled the action as far back to the original

story as he can manage. The price

is the loss of most of the suspense,

a lack of interesting characterisation, and boringly unchanging sets –

it all takes place in a madhouse. Hermann relives the past – at least, I think that’s the idea – while gibbering around the stage throughout. Fortunately Vladimir Galouzine is a superb singer and actor, and makes everything he

can of the role, but if he were playing it as the composer had intended it would be incomparably more effective. His adversary, the Countess, is portrayed as a robust, not a crumbling figure, and Lisa becomes a cipher with some wonderful music to sing. Listen

and you’ll be impressed, watch and you’ll be confused and irritated.


Michael Tanner