A triumphant Met debut for Lise Davidsen in The Queen of Spades

United StatesUnited States Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades: Soloists, Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (conductor), Metropolitan Opera, New York, 29.11.2019. (RP)

Lise Davidsen (Lisa) and Igor Golovatenko (Yeletsky)
in The Queen of Spades © Ken Howard/Met Opera

Director – Elijah Moshinsky
Sets & Costumes – Mark Thompson
Lighting – Paul Pyant
Choreographer – John Meehan

Lisa – Lise Davidsen
Pauline/Daphnis – Elena Maximova
Countess – Larissa Diadkova
Hermann – Yusif Eyvazov
Yeletsky – Igor Golovatenko
Tomsky/Plutus – Alexey Markov
Governess – Jill Grove
Masha – Leah Hawkins
Master of Ceremonies – Patrick Cook
Chloé – Mané Galoyan
Naroumov – Mikhail Svetlov
Tchaplitsky – Arseny Yakovlev
Tchekalinsky – Paul Groves
Sourin – Raymond Aceto
Catherine the Great – Sheila Ricci

Hailed as a ‘one-in-a-million voice’, Lise Davidsen made her highly anticipated debut as Lisa in this performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, the first of seven which run through 21 December. Hopes are running high that the thirty-two-year-old Norwegian soprano will take up the mantle of her legendary Nordic predecessors, Kirsten Flagstad and Birgit Nilsson. The Met, more than most, is banking heavily that she lives up to the hype, as it has ambitious plans for her over the next few seasons.

The statuesque Davidsen was a vulnerable yet passionate Lisa: a vision of demure loveliness in the soft folds of the hooded ensemble that she wore in the first act and icily elegant in the gown of the ballroom scene. Her voice is surprisingly dark, with high notes that bloom with no sense of pressure or strain, and it rides easily over the orchestra to fill the hall. With her debut a triumph and New Yorkers eagerly awaiting her forays into Beethoven, Strauss and Wagner, the Met can breathe a sigh of relief that it bet on a winner.

Yusif Eyvazov as Hermann got off to a rougher start. The middle of Eyvazov’s voice, where much of the role lies, is neither that interesting nor particularly well developed. As a result, his Hermann was a cipher until the third act, where its higher tessitura was much more congenial vocal turf for him. Temperamentally, the final scenes also suited Eyvazov better as he is more a man of action than a brooding schemer.

As Count Tomsky, Alexey Markov and his robust baritone delivered the goods from the start. His rendition of the story of the old countess and her three winning cards gave the first act a much-needed jolt of vocal adrenalin. Igor Golovatenko as Prince Yeletsky sang his sole aria with its glorious melodies in an equally commanding baritone. Mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova was particularly winning as Pauline, her alluring voice blending beautifully with Davidsen’s soprano in their Act I duet. Maximova was also quite fetching vocally and visually as a shepherdess during the ball scene.

Larissa Diadkova was a commanding, imperious Countess who, with a mere nod of her head, summoned up a grander age when she was the toast of Versailles and men like Hermann didn’t even merit a nod. In a black fur coat with a massive ermine collar and matching hat, the Countess was far more imposing than the bejeweled Catherine the Great in her brief appearance at the ball. The veteran mezzo-soprano’s voice was equally impressive, turning Grétry’s air in Act II into a little vocal gem.

Excellent casting of the supporting roles added to the depth of the performance. The governess was sung by the always exciting Jill Grove. As Masha, soprano Leah Hawkins was only on stage for a minute or so, but her soprano commanded attention. Bass Mikhail Svetlov lent authority to the role of Naroumov, while the fine tenor Patrick Cook, in his Met debut, was a perfumed prig as the master of ceremonies presiding over the ball.

Elijah Moshinsky’s realistic yet stylized production, first seen in 1995, remains fresh, and its grandest scenes still prompt applause. The miniature skyline of St. Petersburg with golden church domes glistening against a bright azure sky is stunning, while the most impressive milieu is the ballroom filled with the Met chorus in opulent finery. Lighting is a key element in creating atmosphere, but the costumes are what makes this production pop visually.

The other eagerly anticipated debut of the evening was that of conductor Vasily Petrenko. There is poetry in his music making, and he conducted a performance that was particularly effective in its more introspective moments. The grandeur and sweep of Tchaikovsky’s tumultuous score were present, but the dutiful Petrenko was constrained by Eyvazov’s low-octane Hermann in the first two acts. When Markov, Golovatenko and the phenomenal Met chorus were singing, however, there were no such checks, and Petrenko could relax. The difference in the vitality of the orchestral sound was instantly apparent.

There was one moment, however, when Petrenko simply threw caution to the wind. The Met Orchestra, as responsive to his baton as a Porsche to the fingers of a race driver, revved up its engines to propel the final, sustained high note of Lisa’s Act I aria through the theater. It’s a thrill for conductor, orchestra and audience alike that only a voice such as Lise Davidsen’s can provide.

Rick Perdian

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