Queen of Spades, Opera Holland Park, OHP, August 2016Posted on 5 August 2016
This Tchaikovsky opera contrasts psychological darkness with airy gaiety that comes out very effectively in Rodula Gaitanou’s production. Excellent chorus direction and Jamie Neale’s choreography creates a sense of fun and spontaneity in lighter moments, and the wonderful sets and costumes by Cordelia Chisholm deliver a sumptuous setting for this tale of obsession that descends into self-destruction.
How Opera Holland Park manages to produce such magic on a low budget is something of a mystery, but they go from strength to strength, particularly now they operate independently of the local borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Partly the OHP success depends on choosing singers at the right points in their careers, suiting the roles they play in the production rather than looking out of place as sometimes happens in our large opera houses, and in designing productions that serve the opera rather the director’s self-aggrandisement.
Tchaikovsky composed this some ten years after Eugene Onegin, which Opera Holland Park put on four years ago, and it makes a terrific end of season production for 2016. The director has cleverly combined the ample width of the stage with an apparent depth greater than reality, and Simon Corder’s excellent lighting along with the new dark marquee covers at front right and left allows an atmosphere that the production uses well.
Terrific chorus singing with generally good diction all round, particularly Laura Zigmantaite as the governess, and performances of the principal roles were very good to outstanding. Natalya Romaniw as Lisa was superbly controlled while fully exhibiting the emotion of the role, her Act I soliloquy about girlhood dreams suddenly raising the whole performance, and her tortured anticipation in Act III hugely affecting. Peter Wedd as her absurdly beloved Herman, looking like an emotionally expressive Jeremy Corbyn without the beard, showed the stamina and power to develop from passion to obsession to narcissistic self-destruction. Overall a fine performance, with Rosalind Plowright a poised yet fearful and finally horrified Countess. The expression of the characters’ imaginations, for example when Herman gently dances with the Countess or when the ghosts of her and Lisa finally close in on him at the end, were beautifully staged. Yet production aside the robustly lyrical singing of Richard Burkhard as Count Tomsky and the well-rounded portrayal of Grant Doyle as Prince Yeletsky, so wonderful in the ball scene with Lisa, showed serious quality, with fine vocal contributions from Laura Woods and Daisy Brown as Polina and Masha, all under the sensitive baton of Peter Robinson.
Major opera houses should relearn that to enthral an audience, a staging needs to speak to the intent of composer rather than director, and while this opera can work in darker or lighter hues, that is exactly what this Opera Holland Park production does.
Performances continue on various dates until August 13 — for details click here.