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"The Queen of Spades"


The Metropolitan Opera's revival of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades is an anomaly, the sort of international all-star affair that only the Met can seem to assemble these days. Once again Placido Domingo stretches himself by adding Ghermann to his huge repertory, singing the words (with the aid of a very loud prompter) in what I am told is more than acceptable Russian. On the whole, he is firmly in control of a physically demanding role that lies mostly in his voice's still-vibrant middle register, and he at least suggests the character's brooding, self-destructive nature. Old-timers who treasured the silvery soprano and dramatic intelligence of Elisabeth Soderstrom as she progressed from Marguerite through Melisande to the Marschallin will seize the chance to bask again in her incomparable art. The old Countess is a small part as title roles go, but Soderstrom gives a subtle portrayal of this central figure in Ghermann's road to ruin, a more ethereal wraith than the demonic creature conjured up by the late Leonie Rysanek, but no less terrifying.

The rest of the cast sings Tchaikovsky as a birthright, and few disappoint: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Yeletsky), Olga Borodina (Pauline), Vassily Gerello (Tomsky), and Olga Trifonova (Chloe) -- luxury casting down the line, with the exception of Galina Gorchakova, whose blowsy vocalization of the hapless Lisa is a trial. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky with sets and costumes by Mark Thompson, the production not only wears well but even seems improved, with many inconsistencies corrected and the opera's eerily surreal nature more sharply defined. Valery Gergiev clearly has the opera in his blood, even if the Met orchestra hardly gives him its best. The Queen of Spades has waited a century to be certified a masterpiece of late-Romantic opera, and the current Met revival is good enough to make one wonder why it took so long.


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