In the Liceu revival of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, ‘cancellation’ becomes a major protagonist

SpainSpain Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades (Pique Dame): Chorus and Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Dmitri Jurowski (conductor). Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 6 & 8.2.2022. (JMI)

Larissa Diadkova as the Old Countess in her death scene (c) A. Bofill

Director – Gilbert Deflo
Sets and costumes – William Orlandi
Lighting – Albert Faura
Choreography – Nadejda L. Loujin

Hermann – Yusif Eyvazov / George Oniani
Tomsky – Łukasz Goliński / Gevorg Hakobyan
Yeletsky – Rodion Pogossov / Andrey Zhilikhovsky
Tchekalinsky – David Alegret
Surin – Ivo Stanchev / Nika Guliashvili
Chaplitsky – Antoni Lliteres
Master of Ceremonies – Antoni Lliteres / Marc Sala
Countess – Elena Zaremba / Larissa Diadkova
Lisa – Lianna Haroutounian / Irina Churilova
Polina / Daphnis – Lena Belkina / Cristina Faus
Governess – Mireia Pintó
Masha – Gemma Coma-Alabert
Prilepa – Mercedes Gancedo / Serena Sáenz

This Tchaikovsky opera was last staged at the Liceu in June 2010. The current revival was based on two fundamental pillars: the beautiful production by Gilbert Deflo, which premiered here in 1992, and the announcement that the cast would include Sondra Radvanovsky, undoubtedly one of the great sopranos of today, who has many admirers in Barcelona. Unfortunately, that second pillar collapsed with her cancellation a few weeks ago.

The Deflo staging of The Queen of Spades (or Pique Dame or Pikovaya Dama) belongs to a genre that, unfortunately, no longer exists: a grand production along the lines of Otto Schenk or Franco Zeffirelli. The opulent sets and beautiful costumes here are both the work of William Orlandi. As in the past, I found two scenes were particularly excellent: the death of the Countess in her room and the scene on the bridge over the Neva. The biggest problem is the need for two intermissions and several stops between scenes, and Deflo’s direction of the crowds could be improved. But overall, I think the Liceu has done well to offer this once again.

Conductor Dmitri Jurowski was making his debut at the Liceu. His reading was mostly routine in the first part of the opera, but it gained in intensity and emotion, especially in the Countess’s death scene. I found this scene and Lisa’s suicide drew the best conducting from him. The Liceu orchestra were not at their finest, and the members of the chorus were all singing through masks.

Hermann was sung by tenor Yusif Eyvazov, the husband and frequent partner of Anna Netrebko. I had heard him previously but found him more convincing here, perhaps because this is Russian opera, and he is more familiar with it. His voice is full and suited to the demands of the character. Martin Muehle had been scheduled to sing the role of Hermann in the second cast, but he canceled a few weeks ago and was replaced by tenor George Oniani, whom I was seeing for the first time. His voice is not greatly appealing and not very big either, which resulted in a rather flat performance.

Lianna Haroutounian & Yusif Eyvazov in Act II (c) A. Bofill

Sondra Radvanovsky was replaced as Lisa by soprano Lianna Haroutounian, who was correct in the part. Her timbre is nice and she sings well. In the second cast, Lisa was  soprano Irina Churilova, who is part of the company of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and a good singer. She was the highlight of a rather modest second cast; the best moment was her big scene on the bridge over the Neva River.

Elena Zaremba, one of the most important Russian mezzo-sopranos of recent years, has always shone in her characters. She is not the same today, obviously, but did well as the Countess. In the second cast, there was another cancellation: Dolora Zajick had been scheduled to sing the part but was replaced by Larissa Diadkova. Her voice too reflects the passage of time, but she gave a convincing interpretation of the old Countess.

The rest of the characters are less important, although several have important arias. Łukasz Goliński as Tomsky offered a voice of a certain amplitude but went unnoticed in his Act I aria. In the second cast, we had Gevorg Hakobyan and his wide, sonorous voice.

It had been a few years since I last heard baritone Rodion Pogossov, who played the part of Yeletsky. In his younger years, he was frequently in Spanish opera houses, and I have good memories of him. He is more mature physically now but of less interest in vocal terms. In the second cast Yeletsky was played by Andrei Zhilikhovsky, who offered an attractive voice but somewhat monotonous singing.

The part of Polina was nicely covered by Lena Belkina and Cristina Faus.

José M. Irurzun

Leave a Comment