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PROGRAMME DETAIL

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky The Queen of Spades

Opera in three acts, Op. 68 (1890)
Libretto by Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky after the eponymous novella (1833) by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin 

New production

In Russian
with German and English surtitles

Print programme (PDF)

CREATIVE TEAM

Mariss Jansons, Conductor
Hans Neuenfels, Director
Christian Schmidt, Sets
Reinhard von der Thannen, Costumes
Stefan Bolliger, Lighting
Yvonne Gebauer, Dramaturgy

CAST

Brandon Jovanovich, Hermann
Vladislav Sulimsky, Count Tomsky / Plutus
Igor Golovatenko, Prince Yeletsky
Evgenia Muraveva, Liza
Oksana Volkova, Polina / Daphnis
Hanna Schwarz, Countess
Stanislav Trofimov, Surin
Gleb Peryazev, Narumov
Margarita Nekrasova, Governess
Julia Suleymanova, Chloe

Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor
Wolfgang Götz, Children's Chorus Master
Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus
Ernst Raffelsberger, Chorus Master
Vienna Philharmonic

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Russian literature is unimaginable without Pushkin. It feeds on Pushkin, it breathes Pushkin. During his brief life – he died at the age of 38 – he produced a torrent of the most wonderful poems, plays and stories. Like a magician he reached into the depths of the Russian language in order to transform it. During his lifetime he provoked public opinion. Rejecting all bombast, affectation and theatricality, he strove for precision, simplicity and truthfulness. After his death the world of literature appeared in a wholly different light.
In the latter years of his life he was forced to work under increasingly adverse circumstances, contending with bouts of oppressive melancholy and a chronic lack of money. In 1837 Alexander Pushkin was manoeuvred into a duel, in which he lost his life, as a result of persistent intrigues that had their origins in Russian court circles.

He wrote his slim novella The Queen of Spades in 1833, as he himself relates, within just a few days and in a ‘cold fury’ – a work that is succinct, sharply defined and with precise psychological focus. More than 50 years later Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, dubbed the ‘Byron de nos jours’ by his contemporaries, and his brother Modest turned to this material. For a third time after Yevgeny Onegin and Mazeppa Tchaikovsky had found inspiration in one of Pushkin’s texts. 
Tchaikovsky identified fully with the protagonist Hermann, the outsider, no doubt because he himself as a homosexual had a profound understanding of his predicament. Tchaikovsky composed Hermann’s fears, his loneliness, his rebellion, his desperation, his longing, his quest for the meaning of existence into a parable questioning every existence that seeks to be more than just an acceptance of being, more than chance, than a game played out by unknown powers.

St Petersburg in the late 18th century. During a game of cards the story is told of a countess who in her youth at the French court was idolized as the ‘Vénus moscovite’, and mysteriously won game after game with three magic cards. The protagonist Hermann is immediately enthralled by the secret of these three cards. The son of a German immigrant, he is a stranger in St Petersburg and has only loose social connections – an outsider, a ‘strange person’, as they say. Already infatuated with Liza, the countess’s granddaughter, he now finally spirals out of control. It is as if the dark side of the world is inclining towards him and setting in train other laws. Playing with cards, as he is soon to learn, is perilous; the highest stake is his own soul.

Although Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades is set in the era of the Enlightenment, no rays of light illuminate this dark world. Drear and chill, the days of the aristocracy are numbered. With games and rituals its members attempt to kill the time that can no longer be escaped. In this torpor, this emptiness two lonely, maladjusted people meet who are driven by other forces and other dreams. But they fare no better than all the others, also failing to succeed at life. In Pushkin’s tale the two are released into the reality of everyday life, granted at least a miserable existence in an asylum and marriage respectively. In Tchaikovsky’s opera the game ends fatally for Hermann and Liza.

Yvonne Gebauer, Translation: Sophie Kidd

Cy Twombly · Summer Madness, 1990 · Collection Udo und Anette Brandhorst · Courtesy: Archives Nicola Del Roscio, © Cy Twombly Foundation, 2017

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Grosses Festspielhaus | Display seating plan with categories

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After the first night on 5 August there will be a Gala Soirée in honour of the artists in the Salzburg Residenz. The net profit will benefit the Salzburg Festival's education programmes.

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