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<<  -- 2 --  Roderic Dunnett    DANCE OF DEATH


Even without the marvels being wrought on stage, Jurowski's contribution lifts the music to world-class standard. Perhaps one shouldn't be surprised, for the quality of the WNO Orchestra and Chorus never seems to fall below five star rating. Under Carlo Rizzi they have turned out production after production which feels as fresh on its 15th performance on tour as it does on the opening night. Yet to have achieved such precision and togetherness, such bite and yet such questing variety of tone in the strings throughout an entire first night performance is something that is rare indeed. One might expect it at the Bolshoi or Maryinsky. Here it is on one's own doorstep.

Vitali Taraschenko as Herman and Robert Hayward as Count Tomsky in Welsh National Opera's year 2000 production of Tchaikovsky's 'The Queen of Spades'. Photo (c) 2000 Clive Barda

The singing was on a par. The Kirghiz-born tenor Vitali Taraschenko, who has sung Herman - among many other leads (Khovansky, Cavaradossi, Dimitri in Boris Godunov) - at the Bolshoi, is a voice of quite extraordinary richness as well as mere power. As someone said, he was enough for three Hermans. Yet this was a modest performance : he indulged in no Italianate showing-off antics, concentrating instead on the jagged intensity and zigzag unpredictability of his character's decline. Herman is a bizarre Everyman : the yearned-for 'winning hand' - three, seven, ace (his last, fateful, losing card is in fact the Pique Dame, the queen of spades) - stands for any elixir, any ideal, any restorative designed, hopelessly, to shortcut and dispel the gloomy depressions of everyday ordinariness. As such, he belongs to the 20th century Freudian underworld of Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, or of Brecht's Mahagonny; and the Countess - a former beauty queen, the 'Muscovy Venus' who hobnobbed with the Duc de Condé and Madame de Pompadour, a point brilliantly and garishly hammered home in this production as soon as the curtain opens - is, as Jones perceives, not merely Herman's Midas touch, but his Lulu, or as Schreker had it, his 'Ferne Klang', whose achievement must herald not just the Countess's end, but his.

Vitali Taraschenko as Herman in the new WNO production of Tchaikovsky's 'The Queen of Spades'. Photo (c) 2000 Clive Barda

Jones uses Robert Hayward's Tomsky (underdirected and oddly dressed down, though with Hayward it's become a kind of Leitmotif that never seems to matter) as a kind of diabolic master of ceremonies, winding in chorus and characters alike as if on some fatal skein; his Act I aria (the story of the Old Woman's secret, which fatally entraps Herman) is a highlight of the evening. Chekalinsky and Surin (Peter Hoare, Matthew Hargreaves), his manipulative aides, complete a trio of fates, a malign constellation wheeling round Herman on the huge empty stage like a ghoulish mobile.

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Copyright © 23 September 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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