The Dame, well-piqued

Queen of Spades, Russian Deck [Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]Last Saturday we caught the opening night of English National Opera’s new production of The Queen of Spades. Not entirely a success, albeit with flashes of magnificence.

Most of the problem was David Alden’s: the production had an air of cheapness about it, not to mention laziness. Present were the trademark harsh side-lighting and oddball extras, as well as much piling up of chairs, not to mention the frankly puerile appearance of a bunch of stuffed carton character heads at one point. Of darkness and tension there was practically none.

Not very much of the singing really raised any enthusiasm in me, sad to report, with one exception who was worth the ticket price alone. The flashes of magnificence were supplied by an utterly captivating Dame Felicity Palmer. Stalking the stage with a fearsome and sinister air as the Countess, she nevertheless delivered the second verse of her recollected song with exquisite finesse, holding the audience enraptured. It was indeed believable that this apparition of coldness and severity that she conjured up had once been a society beauty. Glorious stuff.

Ed Gardner – his last assignment as Music Director, I believe – led a reading which prioritised lyricism over melodrama, but I’m not sure that didn’t just add to the sense of the blood being drained out of the work for which the production was chief culprit. Chorus and orchestra were splendid, however – the chorus most of all in this work, bringing the work to a haunting close in spite of a set full of lemon-coloured piled-up chairs.

Not one to rush back to, I’m afraid…

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