Jan 29, 2008

Tri karty: La Dame de Pique

Opéra de Lyon
Jan.28, 2008 (next performances Jan.30, Feb.1, 3 & 5)

The Queen of Spade
Opera in 3 acts
Music - Piotr Illitch Tchaïkovski
Libretto - Modeste Tchaïkovski (adapted from Poutchkine's novel)
New production

Conductor - Kirill Petrenko
Stage director - Peter Stein
Orchestra & chorus of the Opéra de Lyon

Hermann - Viktor Lutsiuk
Liza - Olga Guryakova
The countess - Marianna Tarasova
Tomski - Nikolai Putilin
Prince Eletski - Andrey Breus
Pauline - Elena Maximova

Libretto in russian here, in russian and french here.

I have never been a great admirer of Tchaïkovski's operas (nothing to do with his music for ballet or symphonies). The Queen of Spade is no exception.
Musically, I find the first act very painful, and the only interesting pieces in here are, for me, the duet scene between Liza and Prince Eletski (middle of act 2) and the suicide scene of Liza (beginning of act 3).
I also admit dramatically the long scene at the end of act 2 where the countess dies without revealing to Hermann the 3 winning cards he desperately longs for, is indeed quite interesting.

But the libretto has some big dramatic issues; the first scene of the opera, with the kids soldiers brings absolutely nothing to the action and actually harms it, as well as the ridiculous entrance of tzarina Catherine after the opening scene of act 2.

The recurring appearances of the countess' phantom during act 3 are also difficult to stage, because it's so easy to fall to ridiculous images and lightning effects.
So I think this opera is actually pretty hard to direct, thus requiring a very talented guy at the helm.

Peter Stein is not that guy.

When a good idea is required to make the scene believable, Peter Stein delivers a stupid and unimaginative cliché, that lacks complexity and sophistication.

The entrance of Catherine is beyond ridiculous (picture left) and would be expected if you were attending a circus show, definitely not an opera. Both appearances of the countess' phantom are equally preposterous and ludicrous.

The thunderstorm (scene 1 #6, act 1) was also totally screwed (picture left), in that recurring "circus for dummies" kind of atmosphere (the picture does not accurately demonstrate the ridicule of the staging).

So basically, I don't understand at all why Serge Dorny, the director of the Opéra de Lyon, likes this guy so much; why he keeps on inviting him to direct Tchaïkovski (Mazeppa in 2006, Eugene Oneguine in 2007), unless his plan all along was to present a silly and unattractive trilogy (these three operas will be shown here all together next season).
But then again, this is just one of the many issues I have with Dorny.

The chorus of the Opéra de Lyon was great, as usual, totally deserving his title as best chorus in France, with nuances, subtility and incredible homogeneity, as always.
The orchestra responded pretty well to young and interesting conductor Kirill Petrenko, although sometimes the brass section was lacking a bit of clearness and smoothness.

Finally, a word about the singers: great performance of mezzo Elena Maximova as Pauline, interesting ones from bass Nikolai Putilin as Tomski and tenor Andrey Breus as Prince Eletski.
Both Viktor Lutsiuk (Hermann) and Olga Guryakova (Liza) were forgettable, not awful, just average.

Last 3 pictures
1. Beginning of Act 1
2. Act 2
3. Death of the countess, end of act 2

All pictures above courtesy of the Opéra de Lyon

Curtain calls.

Further readings:
- "Une lecture fidèle", Jean-Louis Validire for Le Figaro, who liked his evening a lot (I wonder if this guy ever disliked an operatic performance).
- "Décevante Dame de Pique", Marie-Aude Roux for Le Monde, was disappointed by Peter Stein like I was but loved the chorus and the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon as well as the conducting of Petrenko.
- "Peter Stein tire la mauvaise carte" from ResMusica.com
- "Trois sept as : Dame de Pique à Lyon" from concertclassic.com

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