This version of the opera focuses on Tchaikovsky's homosexuality. Of course, there is nothing wring about that per se, however such scenes when the composer (who is permanently present on the stage) pays Hermann for his "services" and when Lisa is offering herself to Tchaikovsky (sic) are bordering the theatre of absurd.
Excellent orchestra (needless to say), conducting and singing though, with perhaps one unfortunate exception - Mr Didyk himself who somehow managed to do it even less convincing then a few years ago in Madrid.
Bravo! Bravissimo!! to the amazon.uk’s reviewer who is indicated as ‘ operaforbeginnersdotblog ‘. I do agree with what he writes 100%. May I add that forgetting the inevitable reservations, always due to the surprising mind of these directors, let me point out the fact that here the real artist who deserves the best applause is Mariss Jansons. As sometimes it happens to read about staging of operas here we have another case where it’s better to close our eyes and listen to the magic of the great music by Tchaikowsky conducted with an unparalleled maestry. Anyway it’s a real fascinating performance but the nuisance is superior to it!
Never one to take an opera libretto on face value, Stefan Herheim's production of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades for the Dutch National Opera is another of his composer portrait productions. Herheim is a director who likes to explore a composer's life and times and see how they inform the works they create, and consideration of Tchaikovsky's life, his passions and particularly his repressed homosexuality make those great works all the more fascinating. Perhaps not so much for anyone less familiar with the composer or someone just wants to see a more straightforward account of Pushkin's tale.
In the DNO's Pique Dame, it soon becomes clear that Tchaikovsky himself is going to be firmly at the centre of the opera, using his own life and passions to write the opera as it goes along. A figure who looks very like Tchaikovsky later inserts himself into the opera as Yeletsky, who is engaged to marry Liza; a reference to Tchaikovsky's own failed attempt at marriage. The shock opening scene however has already alerted us to the fact that Tchaikovsky/Yeletsky's inclinations lie elsewhere. Thereafter it is impossible not to view Yeletsky as anything else but a surrogate for Tchaikovsky, but we are also invited by Herheim to see Tchaikovsky in Liza's friend Pauline and in other characters. It's as if Tchaikovsky has poured various aspects of his own personality into all the characters in the opera, which is a valid way of looking at art even if it doesn't really take the motivations of the original author Pushkin into consideration. I suspect that most people would prefer to just see the story told well rather than have all these confusing and contradictory elements weighing it down. Fortunately, the production has much more to offer.
As it often is with Herheim, the production design is extravagantly beautiful. The action takes place mostly in a single drawing room that converts into a ballroom as required - although if you are less literal minded, you could see it as taking place entirely within Tchaikovsky's own mind, which obviously it does on one level. Whichever way you look at it, Philipp Fürhofer's set and costume designs are just magnificent, the lighting immaculate in terms of mood as well as simply illuminating the set to look its best. Somehow the DNO seem to have managed to persuade Mariss Jansons to work with Stefan Herheim again, despite his evident confusion (seen in the behind the scenes feature on the DVD release) over what the director was trying to achieve in their previous collaboration on Eugene Onegin. Jansons's conducting of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra through Tchaikovsky's rich score is just ravishing in its attention to the mood, to the little orchestral flourishes and to the dramatic intent of the work. This is another wonderful collaboration.
Last but not least, the singing is outstanding. There's really no substitute for a Russian cast singing Russian opera, and the cast here are all marvellous. I've been critical of the anguished whine of Misha Didyk in the past, but he has "filled out" a little in appearance since I last saw him sing this role and that tight, high constricted tenor has also expanded into a fuller, more rounded timbre. It's by no means an easy role to sing at the best of times, but Didyk is impressive here and may even be the ideal Hermann. Because of the dual role and the acting requirements, Yeletsky/Tchaikovsky is more challenging here than the role usually is, but Vladimir Stoyanov is superb, his voice warm, lyrical and sensitive. Larissa Diadkova is an experienced Countess, and proves her worth here again. Svetlana Aksenova's Liza is also impressive, but there's a feeling that Herheim has paid less attention to the women in the opera, or at least found Tchaikovsky's writing of them to be not as interesting as the male characters. The use of the chorus is all important to the wider dynamic of this work and once again the DNO chorus are nothing short of phenomenal.