The Queen of Spades (1890)
Hermann - Misha Didyk (tenor)
Yeletsky - Ludovic Tézier (baritone)
Lisa - Emily Magee (soprano)
Countess - Ewa Podleś (alto)
Escolania de Montserrat/Chorus Intermezzo
Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Michael Boder
Gilbert Deflo (director)
rec. Liceu, Barcelona, June-July 2010
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1 Surround
OPUS ARTE OA1050D [2 DVDs: 180:00]

I didn’t have high expectations of this DVD but in the event found it thrilling. It gives us a thoroughly traditional production from the Liceu but it works because it tells the story so compellingly and because the singing and playing is excellent from everyone.
The production takes place squarely in the St Petersburg of Catherine the Great, and she herself makes her famous appearance in Act 2, though her incarnation here is much thinner than the real thing! Gilbert Deflo has spared no expense in evoking the atmosphere, from the outdoor setting of the opening scene through to the seedy card-den of the dénouement. The interiors are all pleasingly lavish too, as are the costumes which not only place the piece historically but lend an insight into each character, especially the Countess’s ludicrously outdated hoop dress and wig. The soldiers all look suitably dashing, and Hermann’s red uniform marks him out as distinctive from the off. Only the Act 2 ballet sequence drags a little, but there is little that any director can do about that!
Far from turning the opera into a museum piece, however, this merely serves as the dressing for a most compelling musical performance. The most striking, and refreshing, thing, is how well the Liceu band impersonates a Russian orchestra. There is plenty of Mediterranean warmth, but more striking is the brooding darkness of the string tone, notable from the outset in the “fate” theme of the prelude. These same strings then pour down benediction on Hermann’s body in the wonderfully moving final bars. Michael Boder’s direction is excellent throughout, pacing each scene with a sure ear for dramatic impetus: witness the nervy energy of the scene in the Countess’s bedroom and, later, the middle scene of Act 3 which seems to be permeated with doom right from the outset.
Each of the singers is excellent too. It seems to be the norm now to give Hermann to a tenor with a low-lying voice. The same is true here: Misha Didyk’s baritonal timbre makes Hermann seem heroic but confounded right from the off, and he sings like a titan throughout. The darkness of his tone comes into its own in the second half of the opera, but even in his first love duet with Lisa he comes across as dangerously unhinged, a character whose inevitable doom is written in his fate from the very start. Emily Magee is a poignant Lisa, singing with a lovely bright tone, though acting more as a passive victim than anything else. She is seldom vulnerable until her final appearance when she evokes the character’s pity very effectively. Ewa Podleś hams it up brilliantly as the Countess, relishing the acting possibilities of the role even more than the vocal ones, though her Grétry aria in the bedroom scene still sounds great. Ludovic Tézier is also very compelling as Yeletsky, again evoking pity as the viewer’s primary response to the character. His great Act 2 aria is wonderfully sung, even if it is nearly ruined by a clarinet fluff from the pit. In the smaller roles, Lado Atanelli has a whale of a time as Tomsky, loving every minute of his two big scenes, and Elena Zaremba gives us a strong, if rather hooty, Pauline.
Watching this DVD reawakened me to the dramatic and musical treasures of what must surely be Tchaikovsky’s greatest opera (with apologies to Onegin fans). This is an ideal way to introduce the opera to someone for the first time, and a great way for established Tchaikovskians to remind themselves just how great it is.
Simon Thompson 

Tells the story so compellingly with singing and playing being excellent from everyone.