Mariss Jansons’s Queen of Spades triumphs on stage

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: C Major DVD
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Pique Dame
PERFORMER: Misha Didyk, Alexey Markov, Vladimir Stoyanov, Svetlana Aksenova, Larissa Diadkova; New Amsterdam Children’s Choir; Chorus of Dutch National Opera; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons; dir. Stefan Herheim
CATALOGUE NO: 743908

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You sign up for the role of Prince Yeletsky in The Queen of Spades, a character betrayed by his prospective wife Lisa, just as she is driven to suicidal despair by the obsessive Hermann in his quest for the mysterious secret of three cards. Nice work, you may think: not much time onstage, plus one of Tchaikovsky’s most beautiful arias – superlatively delivered here by Vladimir Stoyanov. Director Stefan Herheim’s Yeletsky, though, means a full time job – here he’s Tchaikovsky at the end of his short life. Before the Prelude, we see him kneeling before an army officer who will ‘become’ Hermann, winding up a toy bird in a cage to sing a tune of Mozart’s Papageno, and drinking poison (one still not implausible theory about his mysterious death).

What follows could be a one-note production. It’s certainly wacky. But it’s followed through with rigorous brilliance, in the disconcerting threesomes Tchaikovsky shares the stage with antihero Hermann, Lisa (Svetlana Aksenova, a real find) and later the Countess (Larissa Diadkova, not the usual portrayal). The one weakness is the less than convincing body language. But musically all is superb; this is the equal of Mariss Jansons’s first-rate Bavarian CD recording, with some of the same cast including Misha Didyk, currently the Hermann of choice. The Concertgebouw relishes the dark hues and the amazing woodwind scoring; the chorus, well marshalled with the men as multiple Tchaikovskys, is superb. Listed as a ‘co-production with the Royal Opera’, it seems this will hit London next season; lucky us.

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David Nice