The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya Dama, Pique-Dame), Tchaikovsky’s romantic opera about love and gambling, was premièred in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre around the time that he wrote The Sleeping Beauty. Like Eugene Onegin, it is based on a famous novel by Pushkin.
The Russian nobility’s reckless gambling, including Russian roulette, was notorious. Long ago, the ‘Moscow Venus’, having lost at cards, sold herself for the secret of three cards which, played sequentially, would win the card game Faro. The man who extracted the secret from her would cause her death.
Liza, the granddaughter of the now ancient, arrogant Countess, loves Herman, a penniless army officer. To obtain the secret, he threatens to shoot the Countess, who dies of shock before he extracts it. Her ghost reveals it.
When Liza realises that he actually wants money rather than her, she throws herself into a St Petersburg canal. In the Casino scene he plays a wrong card, the Queen of Spades instead of the ace. He loses and commits suicide.
Tchaikovsky’s colourful music and leitmotives bind together this colourful opera which begins in St Petersburg’s Summer Garden, and includes a ballet and a masked ball.
Short Guides to Great Operas written by Michael Steen, author of the acclaimed The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, are concise, entertaining, and easy-to-read books about opera. They are packed with useful information and informed opinion, helping to make you a truly knowledgeable opera-goer, and so maximising your enjoyment of a great musical experience.
Each at around the price you pay for a standard opera-house programme, and available from all popular ebook retailers and ereaders, they are the perfect accompaniment to a night at an opera – whether that’s at home, or at the opera house, or in the cinema for opera on screen, such as ROH Live, Met Opera HD Live, or Glyndebourne Festival in cinemas.
Also available: Great Operas – A ...