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<<  -- 4 --  Roderic Dunnett    Imperial grandeur

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Maids tiptoeing on the marble floor caught the imperious, cobwebby emptiness of this grim household perfectly. 'Ah, the world has grown so stale,' sings the haggard dame : no wonder Hermann (largely free of murderous intent) wants the secret before she snuffs it. Tinged by cor anglais and (again) bassoon, this is Tchaikovsky on tip-top form, surmounting the peak of his career. The Countess's remembered ditty -- the melodic pattern falls, like Symphony 6, only to rearise, picked up by clarinets, which break into a ferocious twitter as she senses Hermann's presence behind the arras -- was show-stopping. Low strings, tympani, a double bass rasp as Hermann clutches and releases his reluctant informant, a mocking death march -- this is music at its most vividly ghoulish and intense.

Hubert Francis (Hermann) and Sally Johnson (Liza) in the 2002 RNCM production of 'The Queen of Spades'

Liza disappears into the river, like many a doomed Slavonic operatic heroine, leaving Tchaikovsky and Janski free to serve up a vivid all-male (well, almost all-male) final scene : Cleverton's Tomsky (as Plutus) delivered another galvanising aria, children processed with aplomb, the male chorus surpassed itself. If one has any doubt about the production (and there weren't many), they were finally quashed. To follow WNO's Queen of Spades triumph with so vital, fresh and terrifying a staging of the same opera, and to maintain such excellence only confirms why the RNCM's opera department is held in such high esteem the world over.

Copyright © 19 April 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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