The Queen of Spades: Different Time, Same Drama

The Local Tourist tickets for two to the opening night performance of The Queen of Spades courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The Queen of Spades (Image courtesy of Lyric Opera.)
The Queen of Spades (Image courtesy of Lyric Opera.)

The impetuous, unstable Gherman is obsessed! His obsessions lie with gambling, with Lisa (who’s engaged to someone else), and with the secret of winning at cards. That secret of “three cards” is closely guarded by Lisa’s grandmother, an elderly countess. Gherman’s all-consuming passion eclipses his sense of reason and reality at a terrible price. Based on a short story by the incomparable Alexander Pushkin, The Queen of Spades is filled with drama, intrigue, jealousy and love unrequited. You know… Like most Russian stories of yore. If you are a fan of high drama, we cannot recommend this production enough.

The Queen of Spades (Photo by Cory Weaver)
The Queen of Spades (Photo by Cory Weaver)

This production of The Queen of Spades combines gothic horror and innovative staging to bring new, unnerving life to Tchaikovsky’s terrifying tale, updating the setting from the late 1700s to the 1930s. Unusual choice of the time period dictates both set and costume design, which frankly left us a bit puzzled at first. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich portrays Gherman, an officer of modest means, who burns with unrequited love for Lisa (portrayed by soprano Sondra Radvanovsky). Her grandmother, the mysterious Countess (mezzo-soprano Jane Henschel in her Lyric debut), coincidentally holds the card-winning secret. Lisa’s friend Pauline (mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong) notices Lisa is distracted at a gathering of their girlfriends and tries to cheer her with a song.

The Queen of Spades (Photo by Cory Weaver)
The Queen of Spades (Photo by Cory Weaver)

Gherman eventually manages to win Lisa away from her fiancé, Prince Yeletsky (baritone Lucas Meachem), but cannot resist the draw of the gambling house, joined by his friend and fellow officer Tomsky (bass Samuel Youn). His unraveling mind drives him to desperate acts and leads to a series of tragic disasters, all propelled by Tchaikovsky’s brilliant music.

The Queen of Spades (Photo by Cory Weaver)
The Queen of Spades (Photo by Cory Weaver)

Sir Andrew Davis, whose first season as music director at Lyric in 2000 started with The Queen of Spades, conducts this new-to-Chicago staging, created by director Richard Jones. The production won the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Opera and the Barclays Theatre Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. Ben Davis is the revival director. Production design is by John Macfarlane; the original lighting designs by Jennifer Tipton are recreated by revival lighting designer Chris Marevich. The Lyric Opera Chorus is prepared by chorus master Michael Black.

Lyric Opera of Chicago is located in the historic Civic Opera House, at 20 North Wacker Drive, in the heart of downtown Chicago.


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