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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) - opera in three acts (1890) [168.43]
Concert performance of opera - Sung in Russian
Herman - Misha Didyk (tenor)
Lisa - Tatiana Serjan (soprano)
Countess - Larissa Diadkova (contralto)
Count Tomsky - Alexey Shishlyaev (baritone)
Prince Yeletsky - Alexey Markov (baritone)
Polina - Oksana Volkova (mezzo)
Surin - Tomasz Slawinski (bass-baritone)
Narumov - Anatoli Sivko (bass)
Tschekalinskij - Vadim Zaplechny (tenor)
Chaplitsky - Mikhail Makarov (tenor)
Governess - Olga Savova (mezzo)
Prilepa, Chloe - Pelageya Kurinaya (soprano)
Kinderchor des Bayerischen Staatsoper
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 11-13 October 2014, Philharmonie, Munich, Germany
Full Russian libretto with English and German translations
BR-KLASSIK 900129 [3 CDs: 66.40 + 55.18 + 46.45]

Based on Alexander Pushkin’s renowned but rather grim short story about human avarice and obsession this concert performance of The Queen of Spades brings the work to life. Renowned as a concert orchestra the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks has relished the opportunity of giving opera performances under conductors such as Rafael Kubelik and Leonard Bernstein. Thankfully chief conductor Mariss Jansons is upholding that tradition. In recent years it has become customary for many orchestras include a concert performance of an opera or an oratorio in its programme each season; a trend that I hope continues. Jansons has already demonstrated his admiration for Tchaikovsky operas giving concert performances of Eugene Onegin in 2011 in Munich. Last season the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Jansons gave a pair of concert performances of The Queen of Spades at the Philharmonie, Munich. This set is taken from those concerts, advertised in the programme as a concert performance yet in the accompanying booklet there is a picture describing the performance as semi-staged. Jansons selected a cast of native Russian singers; incidentally Jansons maintains the Russian connection as he trained at the then Leningrad Conservatory.

The principal character in The Queen of Spades is the tormented Herman, greedy and compulsive, played here by tenor Misha Didyk who tackles his arias with an unyielding sense of engagement. In reasonably firm voice, energetic and not too over-bright the tenor does rather leap at the high notes but the effect it is often thrilling. A highlight from act 3, Herman’s aria ‘What is our life? A game!’ is highly moving and dramatic with a tessitura that falls perfectly for Didyk. I remain impressed with his characterisation of Herman and his innate ability to convey thoughtful expression.

Tatiana Serjan’s portrayal of the role of Lisa is not always the smoothest but one that is wholehearted with an abundance of passion. From act 1 ‘Why am I crying?’ the soprano is notably bright in her top register with a little strain evident. Affecting from act 3 is Lisa’s arioso ‘I am weary with sorrow’ that Serjan sings with a tender passion and accomplishment.

In a performance full of character baritone Alexey Shishlyaev sings the role of Count Tomsky with his voice falling agreeably on the ear. In Tomsky’s demanding act 1 aria ‘Once in Versailles’ (Three Cards) Shishlyaev’s deep, rich baritone is splendidly conveyed, if a touch stained at the top, resulting in a dramatic conclusion that the audience cheer loudly. Full of individuality Tomsky’s act 3 song with chorus ‘If darling girls could fly like birds’ is delivered with impressive projection and diction.

Making quite an impression is mezzo-soprano Larissa Diadkova as the Countess. In act 2 the Countess movingly reminisces about the old days when she sang for the king at Versailles with the aria ‘Je crains de lui parler la nuit’ which is given a highly assured performance marked by a stylishly effective technique.

Standing out as Prince Yeletsky is Alexey Markov with the moving baritone aria ‘I love you beyond all measure’, gallant and rather tender-hearted, which he addresses to Lisa. Capacious and richly coloured, Markov’s dark voice convincingly reveals impressive musical instincts.

Coached by Stellario Fagone the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks sing radiantly substantially adding to the success of the production. There's also a delightful children’s chorus. Jansons controls everything expertly maintaining what one imagines to be his usual calm demeanour. A remarkably fresh and well rounded sound can be heard from his magnificent Bavarian orchestra.

The engineers have done a marvellous job providing excellent sonics delivering impressive detail. The soloists, chorus and orchestra can’t have been easy to balance. Audience applause has been left in which helps maintain the live atmosphere. On the down-side there is some minor stage noise detectable. The label is to be congratulated for providing a full Russian libretto with English and German translations in the booklet. Curiously there is no synopsis. However, there is an informative essay written by Alexandra Maria Dielitz.

All in all Tchaikovsky’s sinister masterpiece is given a performance of real substance.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Simon Thompson


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