THE QUEEN OF SPADES
music by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky libretto by Pyotr Ilyich and Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky translated by Neil Bartlett and Martin Pickard; based on a story by Alexander Pushkin.
London Coliseum St Martin’s Lane In rep to 2 July 2015.
7pm 9, 11, 17, 19, 23, 25, 30 June, 2 July.
Runs 3hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7845 9300.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 May.
ENO deals a strong musical hand.
In the asylum where Alexander Pushkin’s 1833 story finally consigns him, Hermann, a German officer in the Russian army, contemplates his fate in David Alden’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s fate-filled opera. It does him no good; the Tchaikovsky brothers’ adaptation kills him (and not only him) off.
Outside he hears crowds saluting the army as they pass by. One side effect is to suggest Tsarist Russia employed child soldiers in the manner of some modern guerrilla organisations. Having the opera staged in Hermann’s head, imagining palaces out of the institution holding him, certainly does away with hazily romantic notions of Russian Imperial grandeur, as well as emphasising the psycho-drama. It’s unfortunate that staple-going-on-cliché of modern advanced design, the pile of chairs, comes to dominate the stage.
By the end it just about earns its place, symbolising the rickety luck upon which Hermann relies to make his fortune. Until then it has offered no more than a general sense of old things flung aside.
Like other visual elements, it is opposed to the intensity of the music, with its doom-laden minor-key motifs. English National Opera’s orchestra give the terse phrases a contained intensity that hangs in the air even at the quiet end when the final sounds come from playing-cards fluttering to the ground after Hermann’s sure-fire system lets him down.
He had to kill to get the secret sequence that could enrich him as it did the old Countess who only releases her hold on the knowledge after her death. Mad for wealth, Hermann never considers the woman whose death he’s caused might mislead him. She is a forbidding figure, her life and intense emotions encased from the past in her wraith-shaded body.
Felicity Palmer conveys a fine sense of authority as she stands upright and still. Add her superb singing – beautifully controlled even at its quietest, and with formidable inward force – and there’s a thrilling operatic performance, music and drama combined intensely in the one character.
Around are strong performances, including Peter Hoare’s Hermann and Gisella Allen’s Lisa, who fit the production’s historical and modern, high and low-caste, elements.
Hermann: Peter Hoare.
Count Tomsky: Gregory Dahl.
Prince Yeletsky: Nicholas Pallesen.
Countess: Felicity Palmer.
Lisa: Gisella Allen.
Pauline: Catherine Young.
Chekalinsky: Colin Judson.
Surin: Wyn Pencarreg.
Chaplitsky: Peter Van Hulle.
Narumov: Charles Johnston.
Governess: Valerie Reid.
Masha: Katie Bird.
Actors: Alex Brabbins, Matt Dempsey, Tom Fackrell, Drew Hawkins, Nick Rutherford.
Chorus, Children’s Chorus and Orchestra.
Conductor: Edward Gardner.
Director: David Alden.
Designer: Gideon Davey.
Lighting: Wolfgang Goebbel.
Choreographer: Lorena Randi.
Chorus Master: Stephen Harris.
Assistant conductor: Fergus Macleod.
Assistant chorus aster: Chad Kelly.
Co-production with Fondazione Teatro La Fenice di Venezia. First performance of this production by English National Opera 6 June 2015 at the London Coliseum.