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Tuesday, 24 August 2010 11:47

Pikovaya Dama (The Queen of Spades)

Written by Steve Callahan
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Pikovaya Dama (The Queen of Spades)
unionavenueopera.org/

Scott Schoonover's Union Avenue Opera continues to offer quite sterling productions in its uniquely intimate venue. The collection of voices in Pikovaya Dama is among the very best I've heard in the many years I've been enjoying this company's fine work. They are uniformly beautiful; vocally there is truly no weak point in this cast.

The story is taken from a Pushkin novel. It's a romantic tragedy with supernatural overtones. Young Gherman, an officer in the Tsar's army, has fallen in love with a beautiful stranger; he doesn't even know her name. But of this he's certain: he is poor and she is far above him socially. Many of Gherman's colleagues spend much of their time gambling, but he has always abstained. Yet he is strangely obsessed with the idea of gambling. If only he could find some sure way of winning then his romance might prosper.

We soon learn that Gherman's beloved, Lisa, has just become engaged to the dashing Prince Yaletsky. We also meet her aged and mysterious Countess, Lisa's grandmother. This lady is known as “The Queen of Spades” because of a strange legend. In her beautiful youth, it seems, she won fabulously at the tables because she had traded her favors for a mystical secret of three cards. Now Gherman determines to force this winning secret from her. Well, needless to say, this does not all end happily. After having won Lisa's heart Gherman virtually forgets his love in a mad gambling lust. There is a ghost, a scène obligatoire at the faro table, a couple of suicides and much glorious music, though Tchaikowsky does not quite give us melodies that we leave the theatre whistling.

The voices of the three principal men impressed me especially—Matthew Edwardsen as Gherman, Todd von Felker as Tomsky, and Jordan Shanahan as Prince Yeletsky. (Shanahan is not a large man, but has a surprisingly large voice.) Sylvia Stoner, looking beautifully Russian, sings a lovely Lisa. Fine work is also done by Debra Hillabrand and Elizabeth Schleicher as Lisa's companions. Cecelia Stearman carries off the role of the old Countess most admirably.

The somber melodrama is broken with the occasionally shaft of light—a chorus of children, some charming folksongs, an engaging Daphnis and Chloe pastorale. And a time or two there is the hint of that glorious Russian liturgical music. 

Patrick Huber's impressive setting consisted of massive rough bronze panels, beautifully lit by Kaitlyn Breen. Costumer Teresa Doggett did her usual fine work (with this cast of twenty-three). All in all stage director Tim Ocel and music director Scott Schoonover have made Pikova Dama yet another feather in the cap of the Union Avenue Opera Company.

Performances continue through August 28. For information or tickets visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

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