The Queen of Spades
Music Director - Michail Jurowski
Stage Director - Lev Dodin
Set Designer - David Borovsky
Executive Designer -Alexander Borovsky
Costume Designer - Chloé Obolensky
Lighting Designer - Jean Kalman
Choreographer - Yuri Vasilkov
Chief Chorus Master - Valery Boris
The story of the opera unfolds as a long flashback beginning with the epilogue (inspired more by the Pushkin short story in which Hermann goes mad, than by Tchaikovsky’s version in which the protagonist commits suicide).
Surrounded by other patients, doctors and nurses, lying in a bed in the famous Obuhov hospital in Saint Petersburg, Hermann, a poor ex-officer. tries to think what has brought him to this state of insanity. In an uninterrupted series of visions, the plot of the opera takes shape; memories bring him back to the times in which, as a poor, young officer, he dreamt of becoming rich, seeing his only chance to do so in gambling at cards, a popular and fashionable pastime in high society. But having too high expectations and too little money to take risks, he spent every night in the gambling rooms, watching but not playing; for this he was jeered at by the card playing dandies of high society. He remembers also his sudden, deep passion for the young and beautiful aristocrat, Lisa, who was already engaged to Prince Yeletsky. Hermann is well aware of the social divide between them and the impossibility of anything coming of their love; but he begins to glimpse a chance of social advancement and the possibility of marrying Lisa, if only he can have a large win at cards. He is also perturbed by the mysterious Countess, the grandmother of the young lady. The story which Count Tomsky recounts continues to obsess him. He tells him that the eighty-year-old Countess is the custodian of a secret which has become legendary in Saint Petersburg. As a girl the Countess was endowed with rare beauty; in Paris she spent every evening playing cards so, not surprisingly, she was known as “the Queen of Spades”. One day she lost everything and was unable to pay her debts. She returned home to find Count Saint Germain, who, in exchange for a night of lovemaking, promised to reveal to her a certain secret about three cards which never failed to win. The Countess was unable to resist the temptation; she gave in to the night of love-making and went back to the card tables using Saint Germain’s secret and recovering all the money she had lost. According to the legend, the Countess confided the secret to her husband and afterwards to her young lover. But one day, narrates Tomsky, the ghost of Saint Germain appeared to her, warning that she would die at the hand of the third man to whom she revealed the secret. All the Players longed to know it but were afraid to become the third man. More visions flash before the mind of the deranged Hermann; after hearing this legend, he swears to himself that he will possess Lisa’s heart and with her help discover the mystery of the three cards. His first vow is about to be realised and he sees Lisa in his arms. But now in Hermann’s mind the memory comes back to him of the mockery he was subjected to during a party through his desire to discover the secret of the three cards, and in consequence, rise above his rich and false friends, like Tomsky and the young aristocrats Chekalinsky and Surin. These had played a fatal role in Hermann’s illness, by overburdening his already deranged imagination. During the vision of the party which is attended by all those who now surround Hermann in the hospital, he is involved by his friends in a tragic game of hide-and-seek in which Lisa and the Countess also take part.
He begs her to reveal the mystery of the three cards and she realizes that he is the third man whose arrival announces her death. The Countess dies, taking with her the secret of the three cards, and throwing Hermann into a state of desperation. The memories of the Countess’s funeral then pursue him and it seems to him that her ghost visits him revealing the secret of the cards: three, seven, ace. During his illness, Lisa is always beside him. She would like to believe he loves her and that he is not the cause of the Countess’s death but the young man’s state deteriorates; the whole world seems to him like a gambling house, including his ward in the hospital. As in his sick imagination he possesses the secret of the three cards, he is determined to try to play them. His three wins, his seven doubles and he thus becomes fabulously rich. The third time he bets on the ace, but suddenly, instead of the ace in his hand, there appears the queen of spades — seeming to him to be the dead Countess. Hermann’s mind is in total darkness. From his madness there is now no return.