BWW Reviews: The Union Avenue Opera Production of PIKOVAYA DAMA (THE QUEEN OF SPADES)

Tchaikovsky's opera, Pikovaya Dama (The Queen of Spades) is based on a story by Pushkin, but the libretto tweaks the story ever so slightly, by having the lead protagonist, Gherman, already in love with the object of his desire before the plot is firmly put into motion. And the change makes all the difference, imbuing the piece with a sense of romanticism that allows for a resolution that's more poignant and unsettling. The Union Avenue Opera have played their "trump card" with a resplendently dark production of this tragic tale.

Gherman is a soldier who gambles, and loses, frequently. He's also in love with the lovely Lisa, who just happens to be the fiancee of Prince Yeletsky. His fellow soldiers clue him in on the fact that Lisa's grandmother is a Countess who, through a dalliance with Count St. Germain, was given a winning formula for cards that she has kept a secret for many years. But, if someone could pry this bit of knowledge from her they might find themselves in the chips, so to speak. Gherman listens, and absorbs their proposition, but decides to pursue love instead. He surreptitiously enters Lisa's room from a balcony and threatens suicide in order to gain her favor. An invitation to meet her at a later date provides him with an entrance to the room of the Countess as well, but when he decides to try and to get specific information out of her regarding her "secrets", things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Mathew Edwardsen is a good fit as Gherman, possessing a powerful tenor voice that makes easy work of Tchaikovsky's dramatic and soaring score. He also acquits himself well dramatically, and by the end of his tale you feel for him and the reckless choices he's made. Sylvia Stoner also shines as the doomed and sympathetic Lisa, and her big soprano voice rises majestically above the orchestra on several occasions. Todd von Felker does sharp work as Gherman's concerned friend Count Tomsky, and Keith Boyer, Nicholas Probst, Clark Sturdevant, and Thomas Sitzler contribute nicely as fellow army officers. Baritone Jordan Shanahan is very strong as Prince Yeletsky, and does superb work with his second act aria that's a highlight of the show.

Outstanding support is provided by Cecelia Stearman, who lends the proper bearing and temperament to her role as the Countess, as well as Debra Hillabrand as Pauline, and Stella Markou as Chloe.

Scott Schoonover conducts the lush orchestral ensemble with considerable aplomb, while Tim Ocel deftly guides the actors through their paces on stage. Patrick Huber's monolithic (but movable), textured set pieces stand ominously on stage, helping to set a foreboding and forbidding tone for the events that transpire, and they're dramatically lit by Kaitlyn Breen. Teresa Doggett's costumes conjure up just the right feel for this Russian tragedy with the proper emphasis on deep, dark gray, brown and red hues.

The Union Avenue's haunting and powerful production of Pikovaya Dama (The Queen of Spades) continues through August 29, 2010.

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From This Author Chris Gibson