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.
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
Copyright © 19 April 2002
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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