BWW Review: Tchaikovsky's QUEEN Reigns and a Star is Born at the Met
I know it takes a leap of faith for the Met to schedule something outside the ABC operas--AIDA, BOHEME, CARMEN plus a TOSCA, TURANDOT and a few others--and go for something a little more off the beaten track. Tchaikovsky's THE QUEEN OF SPADES (a/k/a PIQUE DAME, PIKOVAYA DAMA or LA DAME DE PIQUE) certainly falls into that category, even though it isn't exactly an unknown.
The current production by Elijah Moshinsky, with Paul Pyant's lighting--which dates to 1995 but still looks like new and opened the other day for the season's run, directed by Peter McClintock--however, is not just well-sung and beautiful to see but, under Vasily Petrenko's baton, makes a very good case for doing it more often.
So why has it only had 70 performances at the Met? Casting a Russian opera (the libretto is by the composer's brother Modest) is always a challenge, language-wise, unless you have a Netrebko who wants to do Tchaikovsky's most famous opera, EUGENE ONEGIN. (NB: QUEEN had its Met debut in German, the lingua franca at the time.) But the current QUEEN is certainly royalty, particularly with the Met debut of Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen as the love-lorn (and lost) Lisa and a solid tenor like Yusif Eyvazov (replacing Aleksandrs Antonenko, fading from too many Otellos, methinks) as Hermann, sometimes called "the Otello of Russian opera."
The rest of the roles are in pretty fine hands, too, including veteran Larissa Diadkova as the Countess (who holds the secret to winning at the gambling house), baritone Igor Golovatenko as Prince Yeletsky (Lisa's intended, whose gorgeous aria, "I love you beyond all measure," was passionate without going over the top), bass Raymond Aceto and baritone Alexey Markov (as Sourin and Count Tomsky/Plutus, respectively). Add the Met orchestra sounding very Russian under Petrenko and the chorus under Donald Palumbo (particularly the men in the hearty "Gamblers' Song") and it was a fine night to be at the Met, though without a big "name" to be seen (or heard).
The news of the run, however, is Davidsen, who is not new to the big-time elsewhere--and has, for some reason, a band of vocal detractors--she is a breath of fresh air at a time when star-power is in short supply in the opera world. With a full-bodied, bracing voice and an elegant stage presence (at least as called for here), I was happy to make her acquaintance as Lisa.
It looks like the Met was, too, since they've already scheduled her for MEISTERSINGER, FIDELIO, ARIADNE, ELEKTRA (Chrysothemis) and ROSENKAVALIER's Marshallin. Not to put a damper on things, but she's only 32 and, well, one never knows how a voice will change (see: Netrebko's metamorphosis from Donizetti to Wagner). Still, I hope to hear a couple of stirring roles from her before there's a shift in the wind.
Eyvazov may have been a replacement but he certainly didn't act (or sing) like one. There was no scenery chewing in a role that could have easily descended into it and a voice that was slightly rough but not unappealing, marshalling his resources for when he needed them most. He has shown that he can handle roles from Cavaradossi to Dick Johnson (which he alternated with Jonas Kaufmann) and now Hermann. He's a keeper.
The only thing I might have wished for was that the opera was...shorter. As in many works, the dancing, while well executed and beautifully written by Tchaikovsky, did nothing to move the story forward--particularly important where tension is a key aspect--except for the opportunity for Hermann to get the key to the Countess's apartment from Lisa. Here, in particular, the pastorale, well staged as it was by choreographer John Meehan, brought the opera to a (long) halt for me, at least.
Still, long live the QUEEN, certainly in the current hands at the Met.
Additional performances of Tchaikovsky's QUEEN OF SPADES will take place on December 5, the matinees on the 8th and 14th, and the evenings of the 18th and the 21. The running time is approximately 3 hours and 35 minutes, including one intermission. The evening performance will conclude around 11:05 pm. A complete schedule with casting by date and performance times is available here.