Queen Of Spades: More Sex, Death And Thwarted Ambition Than Game Of Thrones

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 40 months ago
Queen Of Spades: More Sex, Death And Thwarted Ambition Than Game Of Thrones ★★★★☆ 4

Giselle Allen and Peter Hoare, photo by Donald Cooper.

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Can an opera ever be too much? Director David Alden’s take on Tchaikovsky's Queen Of Spades has plenty to recommend it, especially to audiences terminally bored of the oft-repeated European classics.

Alden is known for his full-on productions and Spades is a veritable treasure trove packed as it is with vocal talent, twisting plot, kooky costumes and glorious set design. Before the curtain makes its final drop, we see one man’s battle with avarice and passion played out with more sex, death and thwarted ambition than the average Game Of Thrones episode.

Russian soldier Hermann is in debt and in love. His paramour Lisa is engaged to a Prince and, to make matters worse, her grandmother is the accursed Queen Of Spades. No-one gets a moniker like that by accident and this particular pensioner holds the mortal secret to gambling nirvana. Once Hermann wins over his heart’s desire, will he stick, twist or go for bust?

Well, what do you think? This is opera, after all, so tragedy and grief naturally await all those atop the billing. Stepping in for Peter Bronder, Peter Hoare is a second and late choice for Hermann yet he gives a bravura performance throughout as the vainglorious chancer; he is outclassed, though, by the septugenarian Felicity Palmer in the eponymous role. Her tour de force battle of words with Hermann in the fourth act is as spellbinding as this art form gets and is the emotional apex of this drama. As Lisa the love interest, Giselle Allen makes the best of a shallow role but her voice becomes rather relentless in its ongoing portrayal of anxiety and anguish until her character meets her grisly end.

Visually, this is a spectacular affair. A kaleidoscope of influences sees Russian outfits from different centuries being worn by the soldiers while the women wear everything from formal dresses to 60s-style mini-dresses. Impressive video projections vivify this already electric production. A psychedelic cabaret episode finishes with giant animal heads and tens of performers engaging in a mass orgy. La Traviata, this isn’t.

The Queen Of Spades continues at The Coliseum, St Martin's Lane WC2, until 2 July. For ticket prices and availability, see the ENO website. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.

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Last Updated 15 June 2015