The Queen of Spades


Dame Josephine Barstow as the Countess and Paul Rendall as the Master of Ceremonies in The Queen of Spades. Photo credit: Bill Cooper

This Autumn, 18 schools across the North took part in Opera 1 workshops and visited the theatre to see a performance of Opera North’s The Queen of Spades.

The Opera 1 team received many brilliant reviews from the students who took part, and three of those have been chosen to appear on the blog. Read on to see what they thought!

Lauren, age 11:

“Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Queen of Spades’ leaves the audience on the edge of their seats, hungry for more. The gripping plot and unusual characters give it an edge unlike any other. The story revolves around a heartbroken peasant, Herman, who is madly in love with the beautiful and rich countess’s granddaughter, Lisa. But Lisa is engaged to a prince and has to decide which path to follow that will lead her to her prince charming.

“Two Russian soldiers tell Herman of a card trick that could win him every gambling match he plays and make him rich enough to be Lisa’s lover, without her status being damaged. But the only woman alive who knows the secret is Lisa’s grandmother, the countess. Mad and blinded by his undying love for Lisa, he accidently murders the countess in an attempt to gain the secret of the cards.

“Upset and confused by the sudden death, Lisa commits suicide and leaves Herman lost and alone in the world. The last act shows Herman being told the secret of the cards by the countess’s ghost, and him then winning two games but losing the third -when what he thought was an ace turned out to be ‘The Queen of Spades’. He then dies tragically from madness and the opera is ended.

“An amazing opera I would recommend to anyone!”

 

Eleanor, age 14:

“In my opinion, your first opera should be the one you remember for years, and I will definitely remember The Queen of Spades as a warm welcome to the world of opera.

“The two lovers, Herman and Lisa kept us all guessing as they struggled to get past the obstacles that blocked them from their dreams of happiness right to the last minute, when tragedy and greed rips them apart. But the character that most had my sympathy was the countess, whose riveting performance as a faded, bitter beauty queen truly sent her out in style, leading to another flaw in the lovers’ plan.

“The Opera was truly brought to life by the wonderful costumes and the simply beautiful sets, which gave the opera a glamorous feeling without overshadowing the major talent that was on display.

“But the opera wasn’t all tragedy and heartbreak, the rousing drinking song at the end brought a feeling of companionship and cheer to the bleak reality of the story, only to be extinguished by greed, envy and pride.

“The score fitted perfectly with the emotions felt as we watched the lovers struggle, and most of the singing certainly did the music justice. The countess was mesmerising, but the relationship between Herman and Lisa felt blank and tired, and their stage presence didn’t quite have the sparkle that Dame Josephine Barstow as the countess brought.

“The lighting was exceptional, telling us who to look for in a crowd, and adding to the suspense of the more dramatic scenes.

“My favourite part was the ending, when the drama has reached its pinnacle, and the stage was owned by the countess as she brought the opera to a close with one final flourish.”

Caroline, age 16:

“Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades”, staged by Opera North at the Theatre Royal,

Newcastle, cannot be described as anything other than a resounding success. The production, directed by Neil Bartlett, was performed stunningly by a highly able cast, lead by Tenor, Jeffery Lloyd-Roberts who portrayed Herman, the man driven insane by love, jealousy and desire in this tale of twists, turns, deception and of course, the gambling of life.

“The plot was based on a novella by Russian author Pushkin, but rewritten for the opera by Tchaikovsky. Despite being set in 18th centurySt Petersburg with an array of varied characters, the cast presented the plot so that it was highly understandable yet not overly simplistic. Members who should be highly commended were Orla Boylan, portraying the female lead and love interest of Herman, Lisa, whose character’s feelings and emotional development were conveyed stunningly; and of course, Dame Josephine Barstow, playing the countess, whose vocals, though mature, were none the less crisp, powerful and the vocal control she has is unbelievable, with a sense of fragility mirrored by no other in the cast.

“However, it is not only the cast who are to be so praised. The costumes used throughout were perfect for the context, and also displayed subtexts of scenes and of characters (for example, the vulnerability and truth of character we feel from the countess during her death scene is increased by her change in costume). The scenery was also highly effective, being minimalist, yet versatile, as well as the lighting which was used to great advantage throughout the production. On top of that, the orchestra performed brilliantly with the cast and presented Tchaikovsky’s score beautifully.

“Overall, “The Queen of Spades” was a wonderful, highly enjoyable and successful production.”

Opera 1 is a programme of creative workshops run by Opera North’s Education team aimed at introducing young people in secondary schools to the art form of opera. Students work with a team of professional artists on a range of music, drama and design activities before seeing a production performed at their local venue. Find out more about Opera 1 here.

Opera 1 is kindly supported by The Hedley Denton Charitable Trust, The Joicey Trust, The Sir James Knott Trust and the Whitaker Charitable Trust.

Opera North's production of The Queen of Spades

Ahead of the opening of our production of The Queen of Spades tonight, we commissioned a short tongue in cheek survey to discover the gambling habits of the nation. Here’s what we revealed…

Men are four times more likely than women to risk breaking up with their spouse or partner in order to increase their chances of winning big.

Men are also more likely than women to risk their finances at the gambling table, with 28% of male respondents saying they would gamble their savings for a chance at hitting the jackpot.

Men are more regular risk-takers than women, with 59% of men gambling at least once a month. In comparison, only 19% of women gamble on a monthly basis, while 48% of women gamble only once a year and 21% of women have never gambled.

90% of all surveyed said that they had taken part in some form of gambling. The most popular way of playing the odds is the National Lottery, which 79% had played. Other popular methods of gambling among men include card games and placing bets on the Grand National, whereas women are more likely to gamble on scratchcards and arcade machines.

However, despite the high levels of gambling uncovered by the survey, 93% of people said that they would take higher risks to succeed in love than they would for money.

The Queen of Spades opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Thursday 20 October and runs until October 28, before touring to the Theatre Royal in Nottingham (4 November), Theatre Royal Newcastle (11 November), The Lowry, Salford Quays (18 November) and the Barbican, London (22, 24 November).

To see Director Neil Bartlett’s picture gallery on The Guardian website go here

Thank you to everyone who submitted answers for ‘Guess the Opera’. The answers are revealed below.

1) ‘I’ve never felt such pure devotion

In all my life before.

I tell myself that this emotion

Will last for ever more!

But then my jealous heart imagines another holds her fast,

While I, poor fool, have no courage to kiss the ground where she has passed.’

Herman tells Tomsky of his love for Lisa in The Queen of Spades

2) ‘Your strength can protect me.

Your smile so honest and so open you tell me things I was quite unaware of. I’m so contented, I’m so contented…

Just love me a little, a very very little.

The little love I ask for is no more than a child needs.’

Cio-Cio-San pleads with Pinkerton in Madama Butterlfy

3) ‘In bygone days I had thy love,

Thou hadst my heart.

But fate, all human vows above

Our lives did part.

By the old love thou hadst for me,

By the fond heart that beat for thee,

By joys that never now can be,

Grant thou prayer!’

Rose Maybud to Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore

Congratulations to CHARLOTTE who was picked at random from all entrants with the correct answer. Please contact julia.lumley@operanorth.co.uk with your details.

Can you tell Puccini from G&S? Ghostly curses from gambling ways? Tragedy from three card tricks? The below extracts are taken from Opera North’s Autumn season operas, Madama Butterfly, Ruddigore and The Queen of Spades but can you work out which lines belong in which opera? Comment below with your answers and you could win a pair of tickets!

1) ‘I’ve never felt such pure devotion

In all my life before.

I tell myself that this emotion

Will last for ever more!

But then my jealous heart imagines another holds her fast,

While I, poor fool, have no courage to kiss the ground where she has passed.’

2) ‘Your strength can protect me.

Your smile so honest and so open you tell me things I was quite unaware of. I’m so contented, I’m so contented…

Just love me a little, a very very little.

The little love I ask for is no more than a child needs.’

3) ‘In bygone days I had thy love,

Thou hadst my heart.

But fate, all human vows above

Our lives did part.

By the old love thou hadst for me,

By the fond heart that beat for thee,

By joys that never now can be,

Grant thou prayer!’

Answers will be announced on Friday 12 August.

Find out more about Opera North’s Autumn Season here.

Today saw the launch of our first behind the scenes online experience page-to-stage.co.uk which offers visitors a weekly insight into the process of creating an opera, from notes scribbled on a piece of paper to a polished production with a cast of over 60, a full orchestra and tour dates across the UK.

The first in this series is the new production of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. The site will include behind the scenes footage, interviews, blogs and photos to give unparalleled access into the creation of the production.

The epic tale of glamour, gambling and greed sees the lead character Herman, sung by Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, obsessed with learning the secret of the three cards that will bring him wealth, love and happiness. But fate deals against him and he loses everything.  The exciting cast includes one of the world’s leading singing actresses Dame Josephine Barstow, alongside a highly acclaimed production team including theatre director Neil Bartlett, who joins Opera North for his first full scale opera production, together with established set & costume designer Kandis Cook.

This week on page-to-stage.co.uk watch the first instalment from Director Neil Bartlett’s video diary. It includes an insight into the first model show, costume ideas and themes of the production, a blog from tenor Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts and a look at the image being used in our marketing material.

page-to-stage.co.uk will follow the whole production process of The Queen of Spades over 14 weeks until the opening night on Thursday 20 October at Leeds Grand Theatre.

www.page-to-stage.co.uk  

Today’s daily opera fix comes in the form of Opera North’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades.

An epic story set in nineteenth century Russia, based on a novel by the Russian author Pushkin, Opera North takes on The Queen of Spades for the first time, promising a darkly glittering theatrical experience. Acclaimed director and writer Neil Bartlett undertakes this as his first full scale opera production and Richard Farnes conducts.


 

The Queen of Spades opens on Thursday 20 October. For more go here.