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Imperial grandeur

RODERIC DUNNETT is impressed with a
new production of 'The Queen of Spades'


Only two seasons ago Welsh National Opera confirmed what a tense, gripping, overawing orchestral score Tchaikovsky's Pikovaya Dama (The Queen of Spades) is. Now that other centre of UK operatic excellence, Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music, has served up its own new production, bristling with life (or death) and admirably sung and acted. The overture alone has the grandeur, majesty -- and also darkness -- of Tchaikovsky's great last symphonies; and if the young players lacked the staggering depth and insight and wealth of detail of the WNO orchestra inspired to rare heights by Vladimir Jurowski, from the start you knew there would be some fine instrumental playing to come.

Hubert Francis (Hermann) with Richard Wiegold (Surin, right) in the 2002 RNCM production of 'The Queen of Spades'

The opera as a whole, as Stephen Johnson has aptly described it, is extraordinarily prophetic, 'poised between Imperial grandeur and post-Revolutionary austerity'. Its centrepiece is Hermann, the down-on-his-luck ex-soldier, whose obsessive pursuit of a lottery win leads him to cause the death (unlike Dostoievsky's Raskolnikov, not murder, but manslaughter) of a forbidding old Countess whose arcane knowledge of three cards purportedly holds the key to card-table victory and fortune. Only at the end does she (or rather, Fate) triumph, by her (posthumous) substitution of a leering Queen of Spades for the needed final Ace.

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Copyright © 19 April 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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