Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: The Queen of Spades
PERFORMER: Mirella Freni, Vladimir Atlantov, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Maureen Forrester, Boston Symphony Orchestra/Tanglewood Festival Chorus/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 60992 2 DDD
Some ten years and three operas after the success of Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky returned to Pushkin, with this setting of the short story The Queen of Spades, which tells of the fatal obsession of a young officer, Herman, for the secret of winning at gambling. Pushkin again proved to be a wise choice, for The Queen of Spades is Tchaikovsky’s finest opera, after Onegin at least, although it has only recently established itself in the international repertory and recorded versions have been few and far between. For this reason alone, Seiji Ozawa’s compelling account with the Boston Symphony Orchestra is extremely welcome, accommodating the eclecticism of Tchaikovsky’s style – from the extremes of Romantic intensity to the Mozartian pastiche of the staged Intermezzo – with conviction and sensitivity. Vladimir Atlantov is an idiomatic and impassioned Herman, though his voice is often strained and, if anything, too histrionic. Nevertheless, Mirella Freni, as ever, turns in a spirited performance as the spurned lover, Lisa, with an outstanding supporting cast including Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Herman’s rival in love, and most notably Maureen Forrester as the old Countess, the eponymous Queen of Spades, whose formidable and bitter presence haunts (literally) the opera. William Humphreys-Jones

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