Review: QUEEN OF SPADES in Des Moines Sets Off Fireworks of Its Own in Time for the Holiday

Spectacular Production of Tchaikovsky Opera a First for Des Moines Metro Opera

By: Jul. 06, 2021
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Review: QUEEN OF SPADES in Des Moines Sets Off Fireworks of Its Own in Time for the Holiday
Taylor Raven as Pauline, Alexander Birch Elliott as
Prince Yeletsky, Sara Gartland as Lisa, Joyce
Castle as the Countess. Photo: Jen Golay

While fireworks may have been going off outside on July 3, Des Moines Metro Opera continued their grand opening weekend after a year with no live opera. The celebration inside was for the opening of their second production of the summer, Tchaikovsky's THE QUEEN OF SPADES, with a libretto by his brother, Modest. This was the company premiere of the 1890 work,

As the audience entered, they were greeted by the grand, stark set designed by Andrew Boyce. There was this sense that we were walking into a fancy art gallery. From the detailed design on the floor, the blank white canvas of the wall, I found myself anticipating the show. I found myself entranced as they brought in different art pieces throughout the show. I enjoyed this concept of the opera taking place in this gallery.

All seemed well with the set until the second half of the show. It started losing this exciting concept and started telling the story of the main character's descent into madness and has different sections of one painting that started taking over the back walls. I think either idea could have worked for the show, but neither found itself fully realized. For me, I would have stayed with the gallery metaphor because it was able to poetically tell the story of a character's death towards the end of the show.

The costumes in this show, designed by Jonathan Knipscher, are some of my favorite costumes seen on the DMMO stage. The costumes at the top of the show were beautiful. The beautiful costumes in act 1 did not prepare for the audience was what was to come in Act 2. When the cast started coming out at the top of the second act, the costumes were stunning. And they were on full display as the cast circled the stage.

But the elegance didn't end there. The costume Catherine the Great enters wearing at the end of Act 2 Scene 1 was one of the most jaw-dropping, spectacular costumes I have seen in my life.

One of the thrills of seeing THE QUEEN OF SPADES is the slew of outstanding performances from DMMO favorites returning to the stage for another show. The first of this performance is that of Jonathan Burton in the role of Gherman. His performance brought the audience to rapturous applause with each of the three arias he performed during the show.

Joyce Castle returns to the Des Moines Metro Opera in the role of Countess. The moment she came on stage captures the audience's attention. When she enters, everything seems great for her character until she first sees Burton's Gherman. At that moment, this sense of doom overcomes her character. This doesn't relent until her climactic moment that comes towards the end of Act 2.

We are also treated to another outstanding performance by Sarah Gartland as Lisa. Her powerful voice takes the audience on a poetic journey through both of her ariosi. Her performance leads to one of the most poetic deaths I've ever seen staged, which relied heavily on the actress's capability to tell this character's story. After this outstanding performance, DMMO audiences will be ecstatic, as Gartland is returning to celebrate the opera's 50th anniversary by performing the role of Rose in the World Premiere of "A Thousand Acres."

The cast also features tremendous performances from Benjamin Taylor as Count Tomsky, Alexander Birch Elliott as Prince Yeletsky, Taylor Raven as Pauline, and Symone Harcum as Mascha. So many times, it's easy to overlook the ensemble when seeing shows, but THE QUEEN OF SPADES ensemble doesn't let that happen. The size of the ensemble and the sound they produced made for an evening of entertainment you won't soon forget. Along with the beautiful dancers, the ensemble was undoubtedly deserving of the bows and applause received at the end of Act 2.

If you are looking for a night with beautiful music, jaw-dropping sets, and costumes, as well as phenomenal performances, then THE QUEEN OF SPADES will be the perfect evening out for you. While tickets are sold out for most performances, you can be put on a waiting list by reaching out to Des Moines Metro Opera's guest services manager Kaylah Hicok at If you prefer to attend, you can purchase Opera Under The Stars tickets and watch the performance outside of the Blank Performing Arts Center.

For more information visit THE QUEEN OF SPADES - Des Moines Metro Opera.

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