A Stunning The Queen of Spades in Chicago

20/02/2020

United StatesUnited States Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Lyric Opera of Chicago / Sir Andrew Davis (conductor). Civic Opera House, Chicago. 15.2.2020. (JLZ)

Sondra Radvanovsky & Brandon Jovanovich in The Queen of Spades (c) Cory Weaver

Production:

Original Director – Richard Jones
Revival Director – Ben Davis
Designer – John Macfarlane
Original Choreographer – Linda Dobell
Original Lighting designer – Jennifer Tipton
Revival Lighting designer – Chris Maravich
Chorus master – Michael Black

Cast:

Gherman – Brandon Jovanovich
Lisa – Sondra Radvanovsky
Countess – Jane Henschel
Tomsky – Samuel Youn
Yeletsky – Lucas Meachem
Pauline – Elizabeth DeShong
Chekalinsky – Kyle van Schoonhoven
Governess – Jill Grove

In a new-to-Chicago production of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades (1890), Lyric Opera of Chicago triumphs on all counts. On opening night, the casting, with the casting, artistry, acting, and staging came together seamlessly.

In responding to Sir Andrew Davis’s deft conducting, Brandon Jovanovich gave a passionate interpretation as Gherman — a tour-de-force. Jovanovich made a three-dimensional character come to life, and his opening monologue gave a sense of what he would do later in the opera. The role seems easy and natural for his immense talent, and as the tragically obsessed protagonist, the tenor kept the audience riveted.

His stage presence itself deserves attention, and his body language — especially in the scenes with Lisa — underscored the text and musical lines. The second scene of Act I was particularly notable for the buildup to the climax. In the final scene of the last act, Jovanovich was memorable, especially the almost whispered final lines, as he took his character’s obsession with the secret cards to its fateful conclusion.

As Lisa, Sondra Radvanovsky was equally powerful, giving her character authentic passion through acting and impressive singing. Subtleties of line and phrasing emerged with fine-tuned intensity, and she brought nuances that transcended the notes on the page. For Lisa’s final aria, Radvanovsky brought required pacing, as her words led to the inevitable suicide.

The rest of the cast was also strong, such Jane Henschel’s Countess, which she delivered with style. Samuel Youn gave a pointed reading of the first-act ballad that inspires Gherman’s obsession with the Countess’s secret three cards. Despite some intonation issues, the overall effect was satisfying and set the tone for the final scene.

As Yeletsky, Lucas Meacham gave a fine version of the familiar second-act aria in which Yeletsky expresses his frustration with loving Lisa. The staging reflected this with immensely effective details: Yeletsky sings to Lisa, then moves away from her, as Lisa finds a way to hand a letter to Gherman, who shadows Yeletsky from the back of the stage.

As director of the revival, Ben Davis brought some thoughtful, cinematic touches: a set that moves back with a fade-out, or in Act III, the view of Gherman in the barracks. Sensitive conducting from Sir Andrew only added to the delights, a highlight of the current season.

James L. Zychowicz

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