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.