Skip to main content

Gushing over The Queen of Spades


It is common for those of us who work in opera (and probably also those who don't) to take works for granted. What I mean is that we sit and consider a future season, rake through the works that are on the list, imagine people in the roles etc. And then sort of judge the whole thing on the reputation it has, as much as on the extent to which we might admire or like the work.  Boheme is a good example of this; it's Boheme, right?  So it is about time we did it - but I'll be honest, it is a long time since I sat and listened to it on CD. Yet when it gets into the theatre and you start to hear it in detail, live,  with the orchestra rehearsing, you again realise how very, very good it is. 

Some operas you may listen to more frequently as you sit on a bus or do some work, but when it gets into the theatre, with a staging, when all that narrative music begins to make perfect sense, the opera in question can take on an even more profound dimension. This is what is happening with Queen of Spades at the moment and it hit home with real force yesterday as I sat and listened to the sitz probe. As the first time to hear cast and orchestra together, the sitz is always exciting and revealing, and of course there are the musical team's technical processes of getting balance right (especially in our peculiar pit arrangement) to interest you. But the most exciting thing about yesterday's rehearsal was realising again, but with bells on, just how remarkable an opera The Queen of Spades is. I have always preferred it to Onegin, but sometimes, one wonders if a preference is based simply on the premise of the opera rather than its music and I think in this instance it is probably both elements that elevate it beyond probably anything Tchaikovsky composed operatically (I reserve judgement on Mazeppa which I love but haven't seen in a theatre). 

QoS has that quality where the entire opera makes you feel uncomfortable, anxious, excited, moved, and never in a predictable way. The virtual incantation of "three cards" throughout is dread personified. There are other operas like this; Turn of the Screw springs to mind. But QoS does it with more lavishly beautiful music - is the final hymn the most wondrous thing in Tchaikovsky's rep? - with not a wasted note, not a scintilla of fluff or nonsense and motifs that bore into you with devilish persistence.  

And what of the singers? Peter Wedd drew applause from his colleagues and the orchestra- no mean feat! And of course there is Rosalind Plowright, her assumption of the Countess is, I can tell you, a terrifying, physical creation as well as a vocally commanding one. Watching the first tech rehearsals, she basically shit the life out of me.  Natalya Romaniw has been hoovering up praise all summer after her Onegin at Garsington, but one of the most exciting things about sopranos "on the rise" is that each time you hear them, there is a change in their voice, a growth or a blossoming. I have had the pleasure of hearing this development over several years from Gioielli, through L'amore dei tre Re and now into this Lisa in QoS. Her Act 3 aria Akh! istomilas ya goryem wasfrankly, breathtaking. My seven year old daughter, Fiora, had popped by the theatre and sat with me to watch it too, and from that relentless introduction of strings and funereal trumpet to her last note, we were both utterly transfixed. That is no mean feat, either! Audiences have a real treat in store. 

We have had such a strong season - everybody seems happy and excited by what they have seen on stage at Holland Park. But the past couple of weeks has been Rossini and Straussian waltz, so it will be good to get back to anxiety, horror, heartbreak and music of such gravitas. I am also aware that it is  unusual for me to express such views before a show: I think the last time I was so publicly excited was before Francesca da Rimini and the first review from David Nice tore it a new fundament (it got much better thereafter). But as my twitter profile says, "often wrong, but never in doubt."



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Panic! Culture and the working class

A new report on the working class relationship with culture has been doing the rounds recently.
Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries (which you can find here (http://createlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Panic-Social-Class-Taste-and-Inequalities-in-the-Creative-Industries1.pdf) comes at the issue from the point of view of the working class and their opportunities to find careers in the cultural sector. I usually concern myself most with the audience aspects of this debate but this report does touch on matters that relate to that, too. The general issue was also recently making waves with respect to entrants into Oxbridge and with Owen Jones's huge Twitter spat about the class of those in the media. 
The Panic! report takes data from various sources and draws conclusions from it. Some of the conclusions are based on what appear to me to be oddly skewed impressions and some of the report sounds like an argument looking for a validation, rather t…

Emma Dent Coad - putting the record straight

Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad has again used OHP as a tool in her battles against RBKC. This piece https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/cleaners-strike-living-wage_uk_5b6867a8e4b0de86f4a3b509 once again quotes figures that are manifestly untrue.

The first time she quoted these figures was in her 'After Grenfell' paper on poverty. A great deal of misinformation has been circulated regarding OHP's costs over the years and the amount of money the council spent. Inflating, misreporting and dramatising the cost of supporting public arts only adds to the sense of outrage, increasing the climate of fear around local authority support for culture. When these arguments appear, little reference is made to expenditure on other services the council provides. We are an easy target.

Emma Dent-Coad's "After Grenfell" paper tied OHP to the disaster and quoted a FOI report from RBKC that purportedly revealed the council had spent "£30 million over 15 years" on the…

The Oxbridge divide

In the past couple of weeks the issue of privilege and the Oxbridge divide has been prominent on social media. The argument has essentially been that Oxbridge caters most to the privileged and monied, and further, excludes black students in particular. David Lammy extracted some data from Oxford which he believes shows Oxford is not doing well enough with respect to offering access to bright black and underprivileged students. I am not sure if he is suggesting Oxford is institutionally racist but the inference that Oxford actively excludes black and disadvantaged students is easy to draw from his comments on the matter. The statistics are quite complex and to me don't actually suggest Oxford is doing too badly, but this thread of tweets addresses the specifics very well;

https://twitter.com/dr_jsa/status/921140080810569728

To be frank, I am not entirely sure where to start with this discussion because those progressing the arguments against elite universities appear to misunderst…