The Queen of Spades

Obsession of “The Queen of Spades"

Konstantin Balakin, Chief Stage Director and Designer tells about his work on the opera:

"The Queen of Spades" is an exclusive opera by Tchaikovsky.It stands alone among all operas in general. It causes a special emotional awe. The classical work is capable of changing in time, so you should not treat this opera as something frozen and untouchable. "The Queen of Spades" provokes the experiment, providing a wide range of production decisions. Sincerity, depth of feelings and incomprehensibility are the most important thing in its music flow for me. "The Queen of Spades" is an obsession embodied in sounds.

I have already worked at this opera in Rostov-on-Don, before that in Volgograd, but today I do not want to repeat myself, go out in circulation. Here is the new theatre, the new "Queen of Spades".

This time I decided to turn “The Queen of Spades" in the cold. The abyss of Tchaikovsky's passions is examined through a magnifying glass. Perhaps, therefore, there were associations with paintings by René Magritte. A paradoxical game on the facet of passion and detachment, a new unreal reality appears from the surreal combination of the incompatible things.

There is still Hitchcock’s suspense in the paintings by Magritte: tension and anxiety, turning into fear. At first glance, everything is calm, harmonious, but the feeling does not leave you that at any moment a catastrophe can occur. Such a colossal psychological tension, characteristic of Tchaikovsky and Magritte, has led me to the scenographic solution of our performance.

There will not be a ceremonial Petersburg. It will be a city that kills with its cold and indifference. Sincere human feelings are doomed here. The curtain with the sky depicted on it is an important emotional feature of the outer form of the performance. It collapses between pictures of fear and passion like an avalanche, reminding the viewers of the unreality of everything that is happening.

Everyone has become accustomed to the image of an old Countess, hobbling along the Summer Garden with shaking hands. For me she is more like a spirit, a phantom. It is well known that Tchaikovsky attributed great  significance to the fortune. So the Countess is a sort of the personification of this inexorable force. Therefore, I am so interested in the allusion to David's "Portrait of Madame Recamier", which depicts a young beauty in an empire negligee in a spectacular pose on the couch. Magritte through a century and a half painted a picture called "The Perspective of Madame Recamier", placing the coffin on the same couch. A philosophical game with time and death; Irony, close to the story by Pushkin. Far from being a grandmother, but an ominous vulture, collector of victims, an immortal Queen of Spades, she appears before us with the open wings of the harpy, and Herman is her prey. A black sphere is rolling on him as if a bunch of negative energy after this meeting. It involves him first in the game, and then in the fight with the unknown. Herman’s nature, open to the passions, does not stop there. Having achieved Liza's reciprocal feeling, he seeks encounters with fate and pays for this meeting with madness. A huge red rose (borrowed from Magritte) seems to sprout through Lisa's open feelings and absorbs it when she realizes that she has lost her lover. Literally inspired by the "revealed" secret, Herman loses his life in a gambling house, becoming a bag full of money.

Tomsky is an involuntary culprit of this whole story. He has told an anecdote that has sunk German in the soul. Therefore, he also becomes ominous. Yeletsky is a "creature". That's what Liza calls him, and in his aria he uses the pronouns of the first person about twenty times, never listening to his bride. So, contrary to tradition, nobility can not be said here.

It is difficult to get by on the stage without cards and money, but it is possible. Very few people, except specialists, know how to play “faro”. Without going into details, I will only say that it is completely designed for randomness. Thus, everything is in the hands of Fortune. That is why in our play the scene of the ball ends not with the arrival of Catherine II, but with the passage of the chariot of Fortune, mercilessly pressing all those who seek to grab her by the tail. As for money, in accordance with the surreal stylistics they will be corrupted, wormy. But the game in the gambling house is not in cards or money. They lose their own heads to the Fortune, they lose themselves.

In the interlude "Sincerity of the Shepherdess", to my and Costume designer Elena Vershinina mind, it is the most interesting to draw a parallel with the first biblical story, namely, the temptation of Eve, about the original sin, about how the first humans condemned themselves and following generations to torment and became mortal. I think this is a story about the loss of human power to resist fate. The fruit was sweet, the payment was great. That's why Prilepa and Milovzor become Eve and Adam respectively, and Zlatogor is a serpent-tempter. The guests, like scavengers, attack the mortals at the first opportunity.

"The Queen of Spades" is the opera about love and death, about passion and fear, about human impotence before fate. A man who indulges his passions becomes a pawn in the hands of fate. It is impossible to resist fate, but you can resist your own passions.

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