Never anticipate that opera is so rarified an ball that it doesn’t accord with the realities of life. It does. And Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, which has aloof opened at Covent Garden in a assembly by the “happening” Norwegian administrator Stefan Herheim, is a case in point.
Essentially this is a allotment of Gothic abhorrence fantasy complete with ghost. But at the aforementioned time it’s about a man destroyed by gambling, a assiduous affair in archetypal Russian abstract (the adventure actuality is by Pushkin): bank as a self-annihilating, all-embracing addiction.
In Tchaikovsky’s account you get a active faculty of how addiction builds: the music is neurotic, feverish, obsessive, with an endlessly repeating adage affair that represents a abstruse ambush for acceptable at the gaming tables. And at Covent Garden the aberration is empiric with belly acuteness beneath Antonio Pappano, who conducts an orchestra on top form, and a able casting led by Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko (an unlovely, raw but blood-tingling voice) as Herman the gambler, Dutch acute Eva-Maria Westbroek (a Covent Garden favourite in heavy-hitting roles) as Liza the adulation object, and admired adept Felicity Palmer reprising one of her specialities, the Old Countess who holds the abstruse of the cards.
But the assembly is addition matter. It looks good, it’s interesting, it’s well-presented. But it hijacks the aboriginal actual with an imposed abstraction that Queen of Spades is a confessional allotment in which Tchaikovsky speaks the contrarily abominable truths of his own life. Truths that accept annihilation to do with gambling, but affair the way he was apprenticed to brainy breakdown and conceivably (it charcoal unproven) suicide by amusing burden to abjure his homosexuality.
Now, it’s a actuality that Tchaikovsky was gay, a actuality that he suffered for it (as gay bodies still do in Russia), and adamantine to abjure that his adversity fed into his music. But a specific affiliation amid the composer’s suppressed female and the anecdotal of Queen of Spades I don’t see. And Stefan Herheim’s efforts to prove the point are unconvincing, strive admitting he does by ambience the absolute activity in Tchaikovsky’s apartment, with Tchaikovsky present as a appearance throughout – allegedly basic the allotment as the admirers acquaintance it.
Everyone onstage is dressed in variants on Tchaikovsky’s 19th-century suit, to appearance they’re aspects of himself. And the macho choir – who are head-to-toe Tchaikovsky clones – appear on with glasses of the berserk baptize that it’s said he drank to end his life. We get the bulletin loud and clear, but it charcoal a bulletin after substance. Queen of Spades is not the adventure of Tchaikovsky, and a staging that insists it is can alone be perverse. However accurately done.
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