I am finally getting around to watching the DVD of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades with Valery Gergiev conducting, or as it is appropriately called on the cover: Pique Dame. I say appropriate because you can hear them saying it in Russian.
I always have something irrelevant to say. The third scene is a ball. We cut it entirely in Ulm, but must surely have moved the wonderful aria by the Prince. We can't surely have cut that. Never mind. In San Francisco there was always a surprise at the end of this scene. The chorus makes an elaborate announcement that Catherine the Great is coming. Her retinue makes its appearance. So does she enter or not? That is the surprise. Perhaps they could not afford the outfit or could find no one to wear it because sometimes they would announce and announce and the curtain would go down with no Catherine. I am excited watching this scene: will she enter or not? She does. She looks like a super and not like the Empress of Russia.
Maria Guleghina is a well sung Lisa, but she frowns all the way through. It would be difficult to imagine a better sung Lisa. Olga Borodina as Pauline is still thin in this.
Pique Dame for my taste contains some of Tchaikovsky's most beautiful music. The best scene musically and dramatically is the scene of the old Countess's death. Some wonderful actresses have performed this scene, and it was sad in Sacramento that they omitted it. It would have required a lot of added rehearsal, but they should have attempted it.
Herman is an asshole. For me he is the reason the opera ultimately fails and people prefer Onegin. The Met player has a version with Placido Domingo which I should try to see. Herman is on the stage almost constantly, and I'm not really sure we can bear an opera where the villain is also the hero. We prefer Onegin because he does not take her down with him. Gegam Grigorian is acceptable, plays the part with a lot of intensity, but does not redeem Herman. Perhaps no one can.
Gergiev makes the music sing.