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Tchaikovsky:Pique Dame
Opera National de Paris,2005
Tchaikovsky:Pique Dame
Release datum:
Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky
Pique Dame
Opéra national de Paris, 2005

Hermann - Vladimir Galouzine
Lisa - Hasmik Papian
La Comtesse - Irina Bogatcheva
Comte Tomski - Nikolai Putilin
Prince Eletski - Ludovic Tézier
Pauline - Christianne Stotijn
Tchekalinski - Vsevolod Grivnov
Sourine - Sergei Stilmachenko
Macha - Irina Tchistjakova

L'Orchestre et Choeurs de l'Opéra National de Paris

Stage Director: Lev Dodin


Stage Director
Lev Dodin

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades is without doubt his greatest masterpiece for the stage. TDK presents a DVD recording of a production by the Opéra National de Paris under the direction of Lev Dodin and the baton of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. This performance – sung in the original Russian – combines the western European staging-tradition and Russia’s masterful musicality. Combined with first-class singers, mostly of Russian origin, this makes for a recording that is an audiovisual treat.

The opera deals with the destructive and isolating nature of an addiction to gambling and tells the story of the army officer Herman who manipulates the naive Lisa. She is the granddaughter of a countess known as the Queen of Spades, who allegedly knows the so-called secret of the three cards which she has so far revealed only to two men. Apparently she will die if she reveals it to a third. The gambler Herman is obsessed with learning the secret, which eventually costs him his possessions, Lisa’s love and his life.

Tchaikovsky himself regarded his work as masterful and it has not lost anything of its fascination over the years. When he completed the final scene of the opera with Hermann’s death, the composer was unable to hold back his tears. The main hero had become a real creature of flesh and blood for him - his double. Accordingly, in the opera, Herman appears in all seven scenes. This demands a great deal of skill and endurance on the part of the singer and Russian tenor Vladimir Galouzine is the perfect match for this role. His passionate acting and intense singing combine to form an amazingly strong stage personality who can convincingly bring the protagonist’s sufferings across without ever slipping into the melodramatic. He is joined by the excellent Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian as Lisa. The cast is led by a “grand seigneur” of Russian opera, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky.

Modest Tchaikovsky added a number of highly spectacular scenes to Pushkin’s original. These include the third-act ball that added little to the story from a dramaturgical point of view and Lisa’s suicide (she throws herself into the River Neva) just before Hermann shoots himself. Neither of the two dies in Pushkin’s novella, instead Hermann goes mad and is locked away in an asylum, while Lisa resigns herself to marrying a non-commissioned officer.
Even if the main lines of the story remain, the characters in the opera, the relationships between them and the situations arising from these relationships, are indicative of profound differences between the short story and the opera. From the outset, therefore, the opera was accused of having watered down and distorted Pushkin’s masterpiece and there has always been a wish to re-interpret Tchaikovsky’s score in the light of Pushkin’s short story.

To a certain extent, this desire to rediscover Pushkin’s original short story in Modest Tchaikovsky’s libretto also informs director Lev Dodin’s work. He throws new light on the masterpiece when he sets the opening of the opera in the place where Hermann’s destiny is sealed. He shows us a madhouse, where the hero is locked up and condemned to relive the drama of his life endlessly and without respite.

Dodin expresses the idea behind this visionary staging in the introductory notes that he wrote for his Paris production: “The hero of Pushkin’s novella on which Tchaikovsky’s eponymous opera is based ends his life in the Obukhov Asylum, a famous psychiatric clinic in St Petersburg. In a sense, then, Pushkin’s story is the story of an illness. This illness is not just a fatal passion for gambling, it is also a quasi-clinical study of Hermann’s dissatisfaction, his sense of inadequacy in the world in which he lives and his identity crisis. The three cards do not merely represent the obscure fate that threatens humankind but, rather, the sense of human vulnerability that torments us all, the humiliations, the transience of happiness, the insurmountable desire to seize this happiness with both hands, in one go, suddenly, now, at once, at whatever price and for good. Playing poker with the Almighty and winning – that is everything. In trying to win at gambling, we do not realize that we are forfeiting our lives. The walls of the psychiatric ward at the Obukhov Asylum are not far away. The other actors in The Queen of Spades naturally feel at home here. Human beings are both tragic and eccentric. It is no accident that through the inspired melodies of The Queen of Spades we also hear the tragic accents of the Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s last work. The more we advance, the more we feel their presence in the music and in the story, this simple story as terrifying as any human life and as brief as any cruel and malignant illness.”

TDK presents this DVD in their series of recordings from the prestigious Opéra National de Paris. The filming is sensitive to both the perfectly composed set and the impressive acting. Changing from close-ups to panoramic views of the stage action and using film sequences illustrating Herman’s nightmare-like obsession, the director captures the claustrophobic atmosphere in the madhouse and the trapped situation of the main characters – trapped in love like Lisa, in obsession like Herman or in the past like the “Pique Dame”.