Mariinsky Theatre/Gergiev – 1 … Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades [Pique Dame]

Tchaikovsky
The Queen of Spades [Pique Dame] – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky and the composer based on the novella by Alexander Pushkin [concert performance; sung in Russian]

Herman – Vladimir Galuzin
Chekalinsky – Alexander Timchenko
Surin – Alexander Morozov
Count Tomsky / Zlatogor – Edem Umerov
Prince Yeletsky – Alexey Markov
Countess – Larissa Diadkova
Liza – Natalia Timchenko
Polina / Milovzor – Kristina Kapustinkaya
Masha – Tatiana Kravtsova
Governess – Elena Vitman
Prilepa – Olga Trifonova
Master of ceremonies / Chaplitsky – Viktor Antipenko
Narumov – Gennady Bezzubenkov

Eltham College Trebles

Chorus & Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Valery Gergiev


Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 30 January, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery GergievThis was a concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s penultimate opera, which managed to be as intensely satisfying as many a fully staged version. Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra simply have this music in their blood, and here they presented it in all its vivid colours, relishing not only its romanticism but also underpinning the whole with that brooding sense of impending disaster that pervades the score. The strings were mellow and warm, the violins bringing a wistful accompaniment to the Countess’s Grétry aria. The brass sounds were forthright but never blasted, and the woodwinds were on especially fine form – eerie- and ominous-sounding flutes and clarinets, and haunting oboes. With the players not confined to the pit one could appreciate how much these instruments add colour to those passages where Herman’s obsession with the secret of the three cards takes hold and drives him to the verge of madness.

Gergiev’s way with the score was fleet, dramatic and always singer-friendly – important as the soloists were placed well in front of the conductor, and there seemed no camera/monitor cue-system in operation. Such confidence can only arise by the singers being completely at home in their parts, which they obviously were, and they all sang without scores.

Vladimir Galuzin. Photograph: mariinsky.ruThe cast was an extremely strong one and dominated by the Herman of Vladimir Galuzin, who for the last decade or so has rather made this part his own. His dark-hued tenor has a baritonal quality to it and yet it can really ring out with clarion force and brilliance. He also is a charismatic actor, his experience in the role allowing him to delineate all the twists and turns of thought of this unhinged maniacal character.

In general, the casting of all the male parts could hardly be bettered. Edem Umerov, a late stand-in as Count Tomsky, delivered a big-voiced and warm reading of his part – full of drama in his narration about the Countess gaining the secret of the cards when a young woman, and suitably ebullient in the early stages of the final scene at the gambling club.

Alexey Markov sang Prince Yeletsky’s aria in fine style, revealing an expressive and true legato. Alexander Timchenko and Alexander Morozov presented a nicely differentiated Chekalinsky and Surin, always reactive to the drama. Their goading of Herman had both humour and malice. To have Gennady Bezzubenkov appear in the final scene as Narumov is luxury casting indeed.

Larissa Diadkova. Photograph: Valerie TrucchiaThe ladies were also generally fine. Natalia Timchenko’s nervy tone quality suited the ever-anxious and never-happy Liza, and she managed to catch the desperation of her final aria. Is there another young heroine in opera whose tortured emotional life is presented so uncompromisingly? Kristina Kapustinkaya was a velvety-voiced Polina, who also made much of her appearance in the ‘pastorale’, and Tatiana Kravtsova brought Masha to life in her short scene.

Best of all was Larissa Diadkova as the Countess. Like Galuzin she has great stage presence and managed to convey the lady’s inner fear of Herman whilst remaining her own commanding presence. The lead-up to the Grétry aria in which the character describes how things were better when she was young, with all its reminiscences of past acquaintances was hauntingly sung. Her nuanced voicing of the aria itself held the audience rapt, with her wonderfully resonant low notes impressing as always.

The choral-singing was excellent, and the choristers of Eltham College were on fine form as the boy soldiers – especially their authoritative commander.

This was an excellent start to the trio of performances to be given at the Barbican Hall by the Mariinsky company over consecutive evenings.

  • Mariinsky Theatre and Valery Gergiev perform Rubinstein’s The Demon on 31 January and Smelkov’s The Brothers Karamazov on 1 February, both at 7 p.m.
  • Barbican

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