Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Queen of Spades at Grange Park Opera

Stephen Gadd, Carl Tanner and ensemble - Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades - Grange Park Opera
Stephen Gadd, Carl Tanner and ensemble
Queen of Spades act three
Tchaikovsky Queen of Spades; Carl Tanner, Giselle Allen, cond. Gianluca Marciano; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 05 2014
Star rating: 4.0
Powerful revival of Antony McDonald's production of Tchaikovsky's intense opera
Antony McDonald's production of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades returned to Grange Park Opera on 5 July 2014. First performed there in 2012 (see my review of the original production), the revival saw Carl Tanner and Anne Marie Owens returning to the roles of Herman and the Countess with newcomers to the cast including Giselle Allen as Lisa, Stephen Gadd as Yeletsky, Gocha Abuladze as Tomsky, Carolyn Dobbin as Polina, Timothy Dawkins as Surin, Anthony Flaum as Tchekalinsky, and Matthew Stiff as Narumov. Gianluca Marciano conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the revival director was Peter Relton.

McDonald's production (in his own designs), though broadly traditional, remains a very dark interpretation of the piece. By removing the pastorale from act two, and having the dinner interval in the middle of that act, just before Herman's scene with the Countess, we have a first half without one of the major moments of relaxation in the score and a second half which concentrates on the darkness of the piece. McDonald's view of the work was that all the protagonists are damaged in some way, and certainly the performances from Carl Tanner and Giselle Allen drew on this intensity.


 Carl Tanner - Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades - Grange Park Opera
Carl Tanner
Tanner's Herman remains a remarkable performance, as he moves gradually from loner-like oddity to out and out obsession. Tanner has a fine dramatic spinto voice, which he used to superb effect. Never apparently tiring, he was able to rise above the orchestra and still keep a sense of line. This was combined with a strong feeling of neurotic intensity in his demeanour. Tanner's Herman was never likeable and frankly, you wondered why Lisa was so obsessed with him, but the intensity of his feeling were palpable.

The role of Lisa veers a long way from the lyric beauty of Tatiana, and requires a soprano who can combine amplitude and power. Giselle Allen, who is gradually moving into more dramatic repertoire, showed that she had both. Her solo scene in act one showed Allen in powerful and passionate form. Perhaps occasionnally the voice sounded a little stressed under pressure, but this was a finely intense performance and one which only developed when Tanner's Herman appeared and the emotion fairly crackled between them. Both are supremely repressed people, and Tanner and Allen made this work well. Allen's solo and scene with Herman in act three was poignant and painful, as her anxiety, developed into passionate belief only for Herman to go off to the gambling house. Here Allen was in powerful form, matching Tanner in intensity, yet still providing a lovely lyrical amplitude to the voice.

Anne Marie Owens and Giselle Allen - Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades - Grange Park Opera
Anne Marie Owens and Giselle Allen
Queen of Spades act two
Frankly, Anne-Marie Owens looks far too young for the Countess, but she created a thrillingly upright and controlling figure. The Gretry aria was delightfully done, and she was a powerful opponent to Tanner in their confrontation in act two.

The remaining roles are relatively short, though Tchaikovsky was careful to give both Yeletsky and Tomsky a solo. Yeletsky, probably the only really normal character in the opera, has the loveliest aria in the opera in his act two solo and Stephen Gadd sang it with great beauty of tone, but also a sense of intense sadness as if Yeletsky knew exactly what was coming. Gadd's short role in the denoument in act three was also brilliantly intensely done.  The Georgian bass Gocha Abuladze made a rumbustious Tomsky, highly vivid and powerful in his description of the three cards to Herman which sets the whole plot off, and wonderfully over the top in his act three aria (which was accompanied by delightfully lewd actions ). Abuladze seems to be a vivid stage actor and I would like to see him again.

The smaller roles were all strongly taken. Carolyn Dobbin as Polina blended beautifully with Giselle Allen in their act one romance. Whilst Timothy Dawkins and Anthony Flaum as the double act of Surin and Tchekalinsky were strongly characterful. Sarah Champion had a strong moment as a governess with a distinct whiff of S&M about her, whilst Christina Petrou was dignified in the small role of Masha.

In the pit the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra were in the capable hands of Gianluca Marciano and between them they gave us a powerful, richly characterised and finely shaped account of the score. It certainly pays dividends, in a piece as darkly complex and emotional as this one, to have an experienced symphonic band on hand. And Marciano showed that he had as much sympathy for Tchaikovsky's intense emotionalism as he does for Italian opera.

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