The Queen of Spades is the passionate and tragic story of the web of fate, life, and death in late 18th century St. Petersburg.
A group of soldiers are at the gambling table complaining about their bad luck. They remark that Herman, another soldier is obsessed with gambling but never places any bets. Herman confesses to his friend Tomsky that he is in love with a girl above his station. The soldiers congratulate Prince Yeletsky on his recent engagement. He points out his fiancée Liza, who is with her grandmother, the old Countess. Herman realizes she is the one he loves. The soldiers remark that the Countess is known as the Queen of Spades for her gambling prowess. The soldiers remark that Herman could solve his problems if he learned the Queen of Spades’ secret and he vows to find it out.
Liza, meanwhile, is unhappy with her engagement as she was stirred by Herman’s gaze at her. Herman appears at her balcony telling her that he is ready to kill himself for her love. She eventually gives in to his embrace.
At a masked ball, Liza gives Herman the key to her grandmother’s room. He thinks that he will learn the secret of gambling from the Countess. He slips into her room and tries to coax the secret from the old lady, going so far as to threaten her with a pistol. She dies of fright and Liza discovers her lover at the scene of the crime. She orders him out.
At the barracks, Herman reads a letter from Liza who wants to see him at the river bank near midnight. The ghost of the old Countess appears to him and tells him the secret three cards – three, seven, ace. Liza meets with Herman but he does not even notice her. She commits suicide.
Herman heads to gamble with Prince Yeletsky. He wins the first three rounds, betting on the cards that the Countess told him. But when he bets on the ace, he loses it all and realizes the ghost of the Countess was claiming her vengeance. He commits suicide and pleads for forgiveness.
"Pique Dame or Pikovaya Dama"
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Russian
About 3 hours + intervals
The close of the 18th century, St. Petersburg, Russia
During the reign of Catherine the Great (1762–96), children are at play in St. Petersburg's Summer Garden pretending to be soldiers. Two officers—Tsurin and Chekalinsky—enter, the former complaining about his bad luck at gambling. They remark that another officer, Herman, seems obsessed with the gaming table but never bets, being frugal and methodical. Herman appears with Tomsky, who remarks that his friend hardly seems like his old self: is anything bothering him? Herman admits he is in love with a girl above his station whose name he does not even know. When Prince Yeletsky, an officer, strolls into the park, Chekalinsky congratulates him on his recent engagement. Yeletsky declares his happiness while Herman, aside, curses him enviously. Yeletsky points out his fiancée, Liza, who has just appeared with her grandmother, the old Countess. Catching sight of Herman, the two women note they have seen him before, staring at them with frightening intensity. Herman realizes that Liza is his unknown beloved. When Yeletsky and the women leave, Herman is lost in thought as the other officers discuss the Countess: known as the Queen of Spades and formerly as the Muscovite Venus, due to her beauty, she succeeded at gambling in her youth by trading amorous favors for the winning formula of Count St. Germain in Paris. Tomsky says only two men, her husband and, later on, her young lover, ever learned the secret of playing three special cards, because she was warned by an apparition to beware a "third suitor" who would kill her trying to force it from her. Musing on the winning sequence of three cards, the others lightly suggest that this might be the way for Herman to win without risking any money. Threatened by approaching thunder, all leave except Herman, who vows to learn the Countess's secret.
At home, Liza plays the spinet as she and her friend Pauline sing a duet about evening in the countryside. Their girlfriends ask to hear more, so Pauline launches into a sad ballad, followed by a dancelike song. As the merriment increases, Liza remains pensively apart. A Governess chides the girls for indulging in unbecoming folk dancing and asks the visitors to leave. Pauline, the last to go, urges Liza to cheer up; Liza replies that after a storm there is a beautiful night and asks the maid, Masha, not to close the French windows to the balcony. Alone, Liza voices her unhappiness with her engagement; she has been stirred by the romantic look of the young man in the park. To her shock, Herman appears on the balcony. Claiming he is about to shoot himself over her betrothal to another, he begs her to take pity on him. When the Countess is heard knocking, Liza hides Herman and opens the door to the old woman, who tells her to shut the windows and go to bed. After the Countess retires, Liza asks Herman to leave but is betrayed by her feelings and falls into his embrace.
Not long afterward, at a masked ball, Herman's comrades comment on his obsession with the secret of the winning cards. Yeletsky passes with Liza, noting her sadness and reassuring her of his love ("Ya vas lyublyu" "I love you"). Herman receives a note from Liza, asking him to meet her later. Tsurin and Chekalinsky sneak up behind him with the intent of playing a joke on him, muttering he is the "third suitor" who will learn the Countess's secret, then melt into the crowd as Herman wonders whether he is hearing things. The master of ceremonies announces a tableau of shepherdesses. Liza slips Herman the key to her grandmother's room, saying the old woman will not be there the next day, but Herman insists on coming that very night. Thinking fate is handing him the Countess's secret, he leaves. The guests' attention turns to the imminent arrival of Catherine the Great, for which a polonaise by Osip Kozlovsky is played and sung in greeting.
Herman slips into the Countess's room and looks in fascination at her portrait as the "Muscovite Venus"; musing how their fates, he feels, are linked: one of them will die because of the other. He lingers too long before he can go to Liza's room and hears the Countess's retinue coming, so he conceals himself as the old lady approaches. The Countess deplores the manners of the day and reminisces about the better times of her youth, when she sang in Versailles "Je crains de lui parler la nuit" ("I fear to talk with him at night", in French; Laurette's Aria from André Grétry's opera Richard Cœur-de-Lion) before the Pompadour herself. As she dozes off, Herman stands before her. She awakens in horror as he pleads with her to tell him her secret. When she remains speechless, he grows desperate and threatens her with a pistol—at which she dies of fright. Liza rushes in, only to learn that the lover to whom she gave her heart was more interested in the Countess's secret. She orders him out and falls sobbing.
In his room at the barracks, as the winter wind howls, Herman reads a letter from Liza, who wants him to meet her at midnight by the river bank. He imagines he hears the chorus chanting at the old Countess's funeral, then is startled by a knock at the window. The old woman's ghost appears, announcing that against her will she must tell him the secret so that he can marry and save Liza. Dazed, Herman repeats the three cards she tells him—three, seven, ace.
By the Winter Canal, Liza waits for Herman: it is already near midnight, and though she clings to a forlorn hope that he still loves her, she sees her youth and happiness swallowed in darkness. At last he appears, but after uttering words of reassurance, he starts to babble wildly about the Countess and her secret. No longer even recognizing Liza, he rushes away. Realizing that all is lost, she commits suicide.
At a gambling house, Herman's fellow officers are finishing supper and getting ready to play faro. Yeletsky, who has not gambled before, joins the group because his engagement has been broken: "unlucky in love, lucky at cards". Tomsky entertains the others with a song. Then Chekalinsky leads a traditional gamblers' song. Settling down to play, they are surprised when Herman arrives, wild and distracted. Yeletsky senses a confrontation and asks Tomsky to be his second if a duel should result. Herman, intent only on betting, starts with a huge bet of 40,000 rubles. He bets the three and wins, upsetting the others with his maniacal expression. Next he bets the seven and wins again. At this he takes a wine glass and declares that life is but a game. Yeletsky accepts his challenge to bet on the next round. Herman bets everything he has on the ace but when he shows his card he is told he is holding the queen of spades. Seeing the Countess's ghost laughing at her vengeance, Herman takes his own life and asks Yeletsky's and Liza's forgiveness. The others pray for his tormented soul.
Herman – Tenor
Count Tomsky – Baritone
Prince Yeletsky – Baritone
Chekalinsky – Tenor
Surin – Bass
Chaplitsky – Tenor
A gambling house owner
Narumov – Bass
Master of Ceremonies – Tenor
Countess - Mezzo-soprano
Liza - Soprano
Prince Yeletsky's fiancée, the countess' granddaughter
Pauline (Polina) – Contralto
Governess – Mezzo-soprano
Masha – Soprano
Prilepa/Chloë – Soprano
Milovzor/Daphnis (Pauline) – Contralto
Zlatogor/Plutus (Tomsky) – Baritone
Place of birth: Votkinsk, Russia
Place of death: St Petersburg
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the Romantic period. His most famous opera, Eugene
Onegin, is among the top 20 of the most performed operas worldwide. He wrote 11 operas, 3 ballets, 6
symphonies, concertos for piano, violin and cello, choral works, string quartets, and more than 100 songs
and piano pieces. He is the most popular Russian composer of all time.
Although achieving great success as a composer, Tchaikovsky experienced hardships in his personal life. He battled depression and he struggled to live as a homosexual in a time when it was forbidden and socially unacceptable. At the age of 14 his mother died of cholera, hugely affecting the rest of his life. He was sent away to boarding school for nine years at the age of 10 to study to become a civil servant. He married a woman to fit into conventions, a marriage that would only last a few months.
In 1876 Tchaikovsky came in contact with Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow and an admirer of Tchaikovsky’s music. An extraordinary relationship developed. They never met but sent each other over 1000 letters. She supported Tchaikovsky’s career financially for almost 14 years.
Tchaikovsky probably died of cholera but some believe that he committed suicide. He was 53 years old.
“To regret the past, to hope in the future, and never to be satisfied with the present: that is what I spend my whole life doing.”
Tchaikovsky suffered from stage fright and antisocial behaviour. As a guest conductor he feared that his head would fall off his body. Therefore, he sometimes held it with his hand while conducting.
Most prominent operas
The libretto was written by the composer's brother Modest Tchaikovsky based on a novella by Alexander Pushkin, but with a slightly altered plot.
Modest Tchaikovsky was a Russian dramatist, opera librettist and translator. He wrote the libretto for two of his brother's operas, The Queen of Spades and Iolanta.
2+1, 2+1, 2+1, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, piano, strings
The Queen of Spades first premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890. The premiere was a huge success and the opera had its Moscow premiere the following year at the Bolshoi Theatre.
Today it is one of the top 40 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria – Ya imyeni yeyo nye znayuf (Herman)
Aria – Odnazhdï v Versalye (Count Tomsky)
Aria - Podrugi milïe (Polina)
Aria - Ja vas lyublyu (Prince Yeletsky)
Aria – Akh! istomilas ya goryem "Liza's aria" (Liza)