[Met Performance] CID:231990

The Queen of Spades
Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, December 27, 1972

The Queen of Spades (27)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky | Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Raina Kabaivanska

Nicolai Gedda

Regina Resnik

Prince Yeletsky
William Walker

Count Tomsky
John Reardon

Paul Franke

Andrij Dobriansky

Joann Grillo

Carlotta Ordassy

Master of Ceremonies
Gene Boucher

Loretta Di Franco

Robert Schmorr

Edmond Karlsrud

Naomi Marritt

Ivan Allen

Kazimierz Kord

Henry Butler

Robert O'Hearn

Alicia Markova

The Queen of Spades received eight performances this season.
This was the first performance by the Metropolitan Opera of a Russian opera in its original language.

Review 1:

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Saturday

Tchaikovsky's operas abound in beautiful tunes that are cherished and enjoyed in excerpt form. The problem for the average Western listener is, however, that exposure to the entire operas adds little to what is cherished and enjoyed in the excerpts. The latest of the scores to make a reappearance in the Metropolitan's repertory is "The Queen of Spades" ("Pique Dame"), vigorously directed by Kazimierz Kord, a new young conductor from Poland by way of Leningrad. His proclamative presentation of the prelude gave hope of dramatic and emotional involvement in the action to follow, but it is simply not in the mixture contrived by Tchaikovsky and his brother, Modeste, from a story by Pushkin.

This time around, "The Queen of Spades" is being given in Russian, perhaps in deference to its principal performers. They are Nicolai Gedda, of Swedish-Russian extraction, as Gherman, the ill-fated hero in quest of a secret formula for winning at faro; and Raina Kabaivanska, of Polish background, as the Lisa whose blind devotion to his project ends in her death also. Aside from Andrij Dobriansky, who has the relatively small part of Sourin, the cast is made up of Americans.

As Gedda is famous for singing English (as in "Vanessa") better than any native tenor, the crux of the question has to be: Why Russian? The only conceivable reply is, "The Queen of Spades" didn't make the grade - with a different cast - in its previous presentation at the Metropolitan in English, so what was the loss in choosing the "original" Russian? The loss, clearly, was the audience's, which had even less contact with the story in Russian, however clear, than in English, however mangled.

Whether conceived by former General Manager Rudolf Bing, or his successor, the late Göran Gentele, the plan violates an essential reality of opera's unreality by pretending that one element of authenticity, however remote from the comprehension of the audience, can redeem the lack of a dozen other, more meaningful elements.

In such a score as "The Queen of Spades," whose swelling tide of melodic invention relates it to such balletic masterpieces of Tchaikovsky as "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake," the underlying essential is: justice to the music. This is the element that transcends language, culture, and even the myopic complexities of a singularly Russian dramatic situation. Conductor Kord expended a full measure of effort on behalf of the orchestral values, but there was, in this cast, hardly a voluble, full-throated embodiment of Tchaikovsky's vocal requirements.

Gedda is, of course, a thorough professional, who sings Rodolfo in "La Bohème" as well as Elvino in "La Sonnambula." His tones, however, are both light and white for Gherman, a role whose prior Metropolitan embodiment was Jon Vickers. Raina Kabaivanska has rarely performed any role at the Metropolitan as well as Lisa, singing affectingly and acting with simple believability. But it is the final commentary on the language issue that the artistic accomplishment of the evening was Regina Resnik's impersonation of the aged Countess, whose possession of the secret by sought by Gherman results in her death. She was just as good, and, in fact, more understandable, when she played the part in the English language in 1965.

Amid a variety of inadequate vocal efforts by William Walker as the blond Texan Prince Yeletsky, John Reardon as a bland New Yorkish Count Tomsky, and Paul Franke as an anonymously operatic Tchekalinsky, there was a real spark of vocal life and visual glow in Joann Grillo's Pauline. She sang her solo in Act I with charming presence and vocal elegance and made a pictorial highlight of Daphnis, to Loretta Di Franco's Chloe, in the French masque of Act II.

Here, of course, is the clue to what "The Queen of Spades" is all about, stylistically. Tchaikovsky accepted the commission to write it because he was in need of a project to fill a space in his schedule for 1889-1890. He promptly retired to write it, not in Omsk, Pinsk, or Minsk, but in Florence. He larded it with appeals to the French interests of sophisticated Muscovites, even to borrowings from Rameau. What emerged was, to be sure, drenched in his compulsive identity with the Russian protagonists, But it was, in its own way the same kind of an imposing facade to a nonexistent reality known to Russians and non-Russians alike as a Potemkin village.

The Robert 0'Hearn scenic production of 1965 and the Henry Butler stage direction are seen again in this revival. The scenery looks shabbier, but the stage direction is tighter, more appropriate than previously. Conductor Kord's competence should be rewarded with a project in which he has a better opportunity to implement it.

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