The opera “The Queen of Spades” by Tchaikovsky returns to the Liceu with the classic and exuberant production by Gilbert Deflo
The Barcelona theater recovers the acclaimed production by Gilbert Deflo, with a classic stage design and sumptuous sets that also pay attention to the psychology of the characters. The baton of Dmitri Jurowski will be in charge of directing the Symphony Orchestra and Choir of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, as well as the Children’s Choir VEUS – Amics de la Unió de Granollers, in a display of talent and strength that has a luxury cast: the character of the countess will be played by Elena Zaremba and Larissa Diadkova, and Prince Ieletski will be defended by Rodion Pogossov and Andrey Zhilikhovsky.
One of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera titles par excellence, The Queen of Spades, returns to the Gran Teatre del Liceu from January 26 to February 11 with 10 performances of the acclaimed production by Belgian stage director Gilbert Deflo.
After the success of Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky returned to adapt a work by Pushkin in what would be his penultimate opera, a commission from the Mariinsky Theater that he agreed to develop when he was enthusiastic about the libretto that his brother Modest had begun to project.
The premiere took place in 1890, in a context of post-Wagnerian apotheosis and triumph of realistic opera, and Tchaikovsky was still composing from a language more typical of the mid-century, seeking bel canto, firm melody and connection with the past —as the pastoral opera that is performed within the same opera in the second act, which is a tribute to Mozart, makes clear— but at the same time introduces a series of modern elements in the form of psychological torture and a gaze into the abyss of the horror that actually belong to the next great operatic revolution, that of symbolism and expressionism. A peculiar modernity that must be found, not so much in the form, but in the substance of The Queen of Spades, a reflection on the dangers of letting the soul be poisoned with futile obsessions.
The baton of Dmitri Jurowski will be in charge of directing the Symphony Orchestra and Choir of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, as well as the children’s choir VEUS – Amics de la Unió de Granollers, in a display of talent and strength that has a luxury cast. The main character of The Queen of Spades, Hermann, must sing in the three acts—and in the seven scenes—into which the opera is divided, and that means that he is on stage for almost three hours. Hermann implies a risk for any spinto tenor, since he not only requires a high level of acting interpretation, but also to overcome with technique and power all the challenges to which a score full of high notes that require brightness, abrupt entrances, long phrasing and dialogues exposes him. intense with the rest of the characters, especially Lisa, another figure that requires an experienced dramatic soprano. In that aspect, the cast of these performances is amply covered with two high-class Hermann —the Azerbaijani Yusif Eyvazov and the Georgian George Oniani—and two insurmountable Lisas in the hands of the consecrated Sondra Radvanovsky, who is signing some of the best seasons in Barcelona of her career, and the increasingly thriving Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian. In the performance on January 27, the role of Lisa will fall to the Russian soprano Irina Churilova.
Accompanying the two protagonists, there are also two characters with outstanding and decisive moments: the Countess, a role that Elena Zaremba and Larissa Diadkova will alternate in, and Prince Ieletski, who requires a baritone with sweet phrasing and the ability to climb into some high notes. imposing, and that Rodion Pogossov and Andrey Zhilikhovsky will defend. The Queen of Spades also requires numerous secondary roles, a choir and even a classical ballet ensemble, which performs in the second act, performing a choreography by Nedejda L. Loujine, inspired by the court ballet of the eighteenth century, from the original proposal designed by Marius Petipa at the premiere of the opera in 1890. An enormous display of talent and strength that will guarantee a perfect performance of a highly demanding work, commanded by the baton of the perfectionist Dmitri Jurowski.
One of the great musical moments of the play is Ya vas lyublyu, in the second act. Lisa goes with her fiancé, Prince Ieletsky, to a masquerade ball to which all the nobility of St. Petersburg are invited. She enters with a clear gesture of disturbance: the day before she met Hermann in the park and begins to feel a love drive that the prince seems to be aware of. At this point, the baritone must champion an aria of delicate lyricism that is, by its classical form—a kind of late Russian version of the Italian bel canto tradition—one of the most beloved individual moments in opera and one of the great Tchaikovsky’s contributions to the art of the perfectly crafted aria.
In the third act, the aria Akh! Istomilas ya goryem performed by Lisa, quite a tour de force for any soprano. Lisa waits for Hermann at midnight, by the canal. It is a cold and disturbing night, another metaphor for the state of mind of the young woman, who suspects that Hermann no longer loves her, and that her initial approach was motivated by discovering the secret of the countess’s letters. As she waits, she laments her bad luck in a short, strained, pain-laden aria.
At the beginning of the opera we meet Hermann, who is in love with a young noblewoman, Lisa, far from her social sphere. Lisa’s grandmother is an old countess who is rumored to know a magic trick to win at cards; when Hermann finds out about her, Lisa is only interested in her as a way of access to the countess, whom she ends up assaulting in her room in the second act so that she reveals her secret to him; she accidentally scares him to death.
At that moment, the story turns into a nightmare: Hermann has not discovered the secret, but the countess’s ghost appears and reveals it to him. He has lost his mind, and Lisa, who has fallen madly in love at the end of the first act, now understands that she will no longer be able to get Hermann back and commits suicide by throwing herself into the river; he will try to use the trick in a card game, but will lose and kill himself; it is the posthumous revenge of the ghost of the countess and a lesson against irrational thinking.
About the production
Some of the most used adjectives to describe the production of The Queen of Spades designed by the Belgian stage director Gilbert Deflo at the beginning of this century —and which could be seen at the Liceu for the last time at the end of the 2009/2010 season— they are lush, luxurious and opulent: as soon as the curtain rises, the first frame of the opera shows the park where Hermann will learn the secret to winning at card games for the first time, and there we see an old-fashioned production customary, with painted sets that represent a pink sunset that will end up drifting into a furious storm and huge groups of extras dressed in the fashion of the Russia of the tsars: military uniforms lavish in details, high-society lady dresses that look like silk, trees and false marble railings.
The action of The Queen of Spades takes place at the end of the 18th century, in Saint Petersburg, under the reign of Tsarina Catherine the Great. The time of the action is not important, really, and the same story – which deals with the grotesque fall of a soldier blinded by games of chance, and who in his obsession renounces the love of his life and his own sanity – could be taken to other places, other times, it could even be adapted with a symbolist, surrealist or postmodern language. But the libretto is both precise in details and moments —at the end of the third painting Catherine herself enters the scene, a ballet is performed with clear reminiscences of Mozart’s times, etcetera—, and any decision that does not correspond to the Loyalty to the letter can be seriously compromised if decisions are not made courageously. The Queen of Spades belongs to a time in European opera —that of Puccini, Giordano, etc.— in which the desire for precision was high, and this still conditions current productions to a great extent. They are anchors that keep tradition alive.
This production, then, is faithful to the text and to the classical spirit. It is, therefore, luxurious, opulent, exuberant as the acts and paintings go by: in the first we are in the park, and in the second in Lisa’s rooms, with large wooden ceilings, sumptuous curtains and a bed. noble. In the third frame we are presented with the interior of a palace, and in the fourth the chambers of the old countess, and that is when the production begins to turn towards darkness and takes on elements more typical of a gothic nightmare. The countess’s chamber is thick, dusty and dark, as if it were a witch’s refuge. Hermann, who in his popular scene of the storm has begun to become obsessed with the old woman’s secret —those three cards that unlock the secret to win the game—, now drags the evil fate with him, everything around him is blackness and restlessness . In the third act, the production is reminiscent of old horror films and the engravings of classic books of fantastic literature: love has been overcome by irrationality, light has been cornered by the darkness that clouds Hermann’s mind.
One of the key points of the scenic proposal is the attention to the psychology of the characters: under the richness of the costumes and props beats a turbulent passion that fuels collective madness.