The Queen of Spades

 

 

Card game with one intermission

Libretto by Modest Tchaikovski upon Pushkin's "The Queen of Spades"

Stage Director – Dmitry Bertman
Music Director – Kirill Tikhonov
Set and Costumes – Igor Nezhny and Tatiana Tulubieva
Playing time – 2 hours
Premiere – January 28, 1995
Playing time – 2 hours 20 minutes
Language of performance – Russian

The place of battle is a gambling-table, the aim is the card win. The game emasculates people’s relations, deprives the characters their honour, shuffles them recklessly like a card pack. It’s not the old Countess who knows the price of this game, but eternally young and wise beauty…

HISTORY

“The Queen of Spades” is the ninth opera by Tchaikovsky. His brother Modest turned to the libretto based on the Pushkin’s novel for composer and conductor Nikolai Semenovich Klenovsky, but in the process of his work he wrote to Pyotr Ilyich: “If you composed music for it, I would write my poetry tenfold more diligent!” Soon  Klenovsky left the idea of “The Queen of Spades”, while Tchaikovsky on the contrary entered into the spirit of it. In a letter to Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck he described his detailed strategy: “By the way, director of the theatres Vsevolozhsky is taken with the idea that I must write an opera based on this plot and moreover by the next season. He told me his will and as it coincided with my decision to flee from Russia in January and to take on this composition, I agreed… I’m eager to work, and If I manage to settle in some cozy place abroad, — it seems to me, I’ll manage to deal with the task and have the piano reduction represented by May, and then instrument it in summer”.

Thus the work was very urgent. In order to be able to complete the opera by the next season Tchaikovsky declined several invitations to play the concerts in Germany, France, Belgium and left for Florence. There on 19 January 1890 he began to create “The Queen of Spades”. He managed to meet the timeline promised von Meck. He was writing the music for 44 days. The first scene was being written from 19 to 28 January, the second — from 29 January to 4 February, the fourth — from 5 to 11 February, and the third — from 11 to 19 February. Tchaikovsky completed the draft record on 3 March. As seen he worked without breaks. As early as in June the composer completed the orchestration. 

Modest Ilyich converted the prose into poetry, going far from the original. The Pushkin’s text is the most fully preserved in the episode of Herman and the Countess, which is the fourth scene of the opera. As the action was transferred from 1830s to the times of Catherine the Great, Tchaikovsky inserted into the libretto the works of Pushkin’s senior contemporaries for brighter historical colors. The duet of Liza and Polina “Uzh vecher (It’s already evening…)” was written to the lyrics by Vasily Zhukovsky, romance of Polina “Podrugi milye (Dear friends)” — to the lyrics by Konstantin Batyushkov, duet of Prilepa and Milovzor “Moy milenky druzhok (My Dear Little Friend)” — to the lyrics by Pyotr Karabanov, the Tomsky’s song “Yesli b milye dyevitsy (If pretty girls could fly like birds)”, choruses “Radostno I veselo (Happily, merrily)” and “Slavsya Sim, Ekaterina (Praise to Catherine the Great)” — to the lyrics by Gavrila Derzhavin. They are partially anachronisms, because Zhukovsky and Batyushkov were too young in the days of Catherine. But the most famous anachronism is the melody from the opera “Richard Coeur-de-lion” by Grétry, which the Countess croons when remembering the days of her youth. When Grétry composed “Richard”, the Countess of the Tchaikovsky brothers was rather old already. But undoubtedly this melody adds to the opera the spirit of old times. 

“The Queen of Spades” was premiered on 7 (19) December 1890 on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint-Petersburg.

SUMMARY

Act 1
A poor young man Herman falls in love with a girl who has been engaged with Prince Yeletsky, according to his friend Count Tomsky’s words. Her name is Liza. She is a granddaughter of the countess — the Queen of Spades, the fatal possessor of the three cards’ secret. Liza reciprocates Herman’s feelings, but he becomes obsessed with the desire to reveal the secret of her grandmother’s gains in order to quickly obtain a fortune and to marry.

Act 2
Stealing into the countess’s bedroom, Herman asks her to reveal her secret of the three cards, but the “witch” dies, taking the secret with herself. Liza appoints the date with Herman in order to get his explanations, but can’t wait he’s coming... The same time Herman sees the ghost of the countess, revealing her secret upon condition that he will marry her granddaughter.

As the beloved have met, Liza sees in terror that the game has become the main thing for Herman, while she doesn’t’ mean much for him. Being in despair she commits suicide.

Herman hurries to the gambling house. In competition with Yeletsky he wins in the first two cards and puts on the line everything he has, but instead of the ace, there is a grinning queen of spades. Herman curses the countess and dies, but the game is going on…

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