Marlena Dietrich? The Queen of Spades??
The overture swirls around us, first with foreboding strings, that then break into an almost a steeple chase gallop introduced by the brass and percussion sections. Meanwhile, a blue-eyed belle, replete with high cheek beauty mark, keeps her steady gaze upon us. Her huge face fills the Lyric front curtain. She doesn’t blink, but we eventually do. It’s then that the Disney-style time lapse animation aging of her visage begins to come into focus. The bloom is gone, and then gone some more— gone, gone, gone. (Revival Lighting Design: Chris Maravich)
This is a brilliant stroke, in this writer’s view, to silently and powerfully frame this revival of Tchaikovsky’s THE QUEEN OF SPADES with a Freud-ish—if not purely Freudian—lens. Underneath all the kerfuffle, it’s all about staring mortality down. SPOILER ALERT!! That haunting Venus of Moscow visage returns in the last act, now more like the hint of one-time flower you tread upon in a wintry forest hike. Almost gasp worthy in its power, this visual haunts. It more than prepares us for the last scene, when Peter Illyich’s brother Modest Tchaikovsky’s libretto has the characters singing round the gambling table—to paraphrase—life is short so you better drink, whore around, and take your chances before it’s too late.
In other hands, this opera might be presented more as a Gamblers Anonymous confessional. The main character Gherman (tenor Brandon Jovanovich) is a compulsive gambler who happens to fall hopelessly in love with Lisa (soprano Sondra Radvanovsky), the granddaughter of an aged Countess once called the Venus of Moscow (mezzo-soprano Jane Henschel). The Countess has all the cards—figuratively and literally. Gherman, no stranger to OCD-borne madness, has his competing desires for Lisa and gambling table wins broiling within. Luckily for us, his constant turmoil erupts in passionate song, as do Lisa’s yearnings. This is what opera-scale existential angst sounds like!
Add to that the soothing silvery voice of Lisa’s one-time fiancée, Prince Yeletsky (baritone Lucas Meachem), whose performance of one this opera’s most famous arias brings out the well-deserved BRAVOs! It’s also the libretto that moves so much and perfectly for a Valentines Day weekend, as he pours out his heart of mad love.
Stagecraft and Choreography in this Lyric Opera Revival are Superlative
Many will find the outstanding musical performances—all-- and Tchaikovsky’s score enough to merit the near-marathon endurance you need for this long opera (3 hours and 45 minutes according to the program book—longer on opening night). For this writer though, it is the stagecraft (Set: John Macfarlane; Revival Lighting Designer: Chris Maravich) and choreography (Revival Choreographer: Anjali Mehra) that makes this one of Lyric’s most compelling operas in memory.
Throughout, we get to feel the anomia that both Lisa and Gherman feel at critical points by the visual of them flailing in between rows of the straight marching forward-looking ensemble. Similarly, how the Countess haunts Gherman’s inner life is made visual by her march across the back of the stage. SPOILER ALERT!! Most of all, it is the aerial view set design where we see both Gherman’s tortured insomniac dance with an oversized death skeleton puppet that even surpasses the musical grandeur of score and performance. Overall, puppetry lovers will find much to admire in this production, though a tip is to make sure to get the better seats up front on the first floor for the small puppet scenes. (Puppetry Director: Chris Pirie)
Both a visual and auditory feast, THE QUEEN OF SPADES is a top pick for your time.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya Dama)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky | Opera in three acts in Russian
Libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky, based on the novella of the
same name by Alexander Pushkin
CHARACTERS IN ORDER OF VOCAL APPEARANCE
Child Captain Katherine Talmers
Chekalinsky Kyle van Schoonhoven
Sourin David Weigel
Count Tomsky Samuel Youn
Gherman Brandon Jovanovich
Lisa Sondra Radvanovsky
Countess Jane Henschel
Prince Yeletsky Lucas Meachem
Pauline Elizabeth DeShong
Governess Jill Grove
Masha Emily Pogorelc
Major-domo Mario Rojas
Chaplitsky Eric Ferring
Narumov Anthony Reed
Puppeteers Taylor Bibat
Chicago Children’s Choir
Actors Philip Christian
David von Ehrlicher
Conductor Sir Andrew Davis
Original Director Richard Jones
Revival Director Benjamin Davis
Set (other than Front Cloths) and
Costume Designer John Macfarlane
Original Lighting Designer Jennifer Tipton
Revival Lighting Designer Chris Maravich
Chorus Master Michael Black
Children’s Chorus Master Josephine Lee
Original Choreographer Linda Dobell
Revival Choreographer Anjali Mehra
Puppetry Director Chris Pirie
Wigmaster and Sarah Hatten
Makeup Designer Assistant Director David Carl Toulson
Stage Manager John W. Coleman
Stage Band Conductor Eric Weimer
Musical Preparation Noah Lindquist
Prompter Susan Miller Hult
Fight Director Nick Sandys
Projected English Titles Christopher Bergen
February 19, 23, 26 and March 1, 2020
Lyric Opera House
20 N Wacker Dr.
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.