Just when you think tragedy has reached the ultimate depths, along comes Tchaikovsky with an Arctic whirlwind of an opera, a chilly gripping thriller crammed with everything dark and passionate and mysterious. “The Queen of Spades” is Tchaikovsky at his darkest and best; after “Eugene Onegin” he once again delved into Pushkin and his elaborate ghost story and worked on the libretto with his brother, to spin out the essence of his finest opera. Set during the reign of Catherine the Great, it demands tortured, tormented intensity from

the cast, the orchestra and also from the audience. The orchestra should hold nothing back, attacking the intensity of the score so we feel Tchaikovsky’s tragedy with every fibre of our souls.
While Massenet gently leads you in spiralling circles towards the tragic finale and Puccini throws it out full of dramatic Italian passion, so Tchaikovsky positively slams it into your chest, virtually knocking the breath out of you.

Conductor Vassily Sinaisky has the task of bringing the full passionate force of Tchaikovsky’s score to drag us through the darkness.

The setting and costumes should be as elaborate as the plot and we can expect nothing short of greatness from the director, Vadim Milkov.

Hermann, our tortured protagonist, played by Mikhail Gubsky, is an obsessive by nature. He becomes infatuated with beautiful yet out of reach Liza, performed by the fiercely talented Szilvia Rálik. Liza is way above him in social standing and due to marry Prince Yeletsky (Zsolt Haja).

Tormented and possessed of an addictive personality, Hermann then turns towards the card games he has avoided. His obsession will stop at nothing, only death will halt it.

The character of Hermann demands so much from its lead singer way and beyond the vocal range; this is a character who needs to be convincing in terms of obsession and at times borderline insanity.
If this were modern-day St. Petersburg, he might be shooting up home-cooked krokodil in a shady apartment block in Kupchino and that would not make an opera, just a depressing docu-drama for TV. But like all junkies, he needs and craves that fix and his true obsession is with the deck of cards.

He even threatens the Countess (Bernadett Wiedemann), once legendary lucky lady and the eponymous Queen of Spades, herself with a gun to discover the secret of the playing cards, the secret only two others knew.

Of course, in classic Russian style, Liza, now swept away by Hermann’s passion, wants to meet him by a freezing river at midnight in the middle of winter (where else could be more depressing and dangerous?). Hermann is more intent on solving the hidden mystery within the card games, believing he can unlock the secret the Queen of Spades, the old Countess, held to her chest in her young and frivolous years.

And like a junkie, he is ruthlessly self-obsessed; his victims Liza and the Countess are nothing to him. If he can only crack the formula, he believes he can fix his whole broken life.

Hermann’s own confession that life is nothing but a game of cards suggests the carelessness he attaches to his own existence and all those around him. He is dicing with death throughout, fighting with his own demons and the House always wins.

“The Queen of Spades”

Hungarian State Opera

Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI

Friday April 1 until Saturday April 16

Tickets and information:


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