Photo courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera
Friday night marked the opening of the Spring season at the Houston Grand Opera with Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades. The evenings tone was set by the opening drop which began as something of folly, but ended up something much more sinister. Which was exactly how the night progressed. And from that moment on we knew that it was not going to be our average night at the opera.
This production was originally directed by Richard Jones and was created for the Welsh National Opera. It has toured all over the world and has finally landed in our laps here in Houston.
The story is about a love-struck man driven mad by the legend of the three cards that only the old Countess knows about. In his pursuit of the knowledge of the three cards, he loses his love, his money, and his life. All in one drama-filled, edge-of-your-seat night of brilliant singing and wonderful staging.
For a full synopsis of The Queen of Spades, click here
Staring as the tormented lover Hermann was tenor Vladimir Galouzine. Mr. Galouzine proves time and time again that he is one of the worlds greatest dramatic tenors of this or any other time. The vocal power and shire dramatics that he created on stage was something super-human. Last seen at HGO as Canio in Pagliacci, Houston is very lucky to have a singer like him in our midst. Opposite Mr. Galouzine was the equally thrilling soprano Tatiana Monogarova in her North American debut. Her voice matched perfectly with Mr. Galouzine’s in its dramatics and prowess. Though at times a bit stretched, she sang with full bodied tones and acted with great believability. Making his HGO debut as Count Tomsky/Plutus was Icelandic baritone Tómas Tómasson. Mr. Tómasson made quite a debut with his wonderful, rich voice and warm, booming resonance. Also in his HGO debut was Vasily Ladyuk as Prince Yeletsky. He was adequate in his interpretation, but he lacked in vocal ability just a touch. Singing the frail Countess was Judith Forst. Last seen at HGO just a few months ago in her HGO debut in Turn of The Screw, she once again shows off her vocal dexterity and incredible acting chops. Playing quite convincingly as the rest of Hermann’s trio of friends were Erik Nelsen Werner and HGO studio artist Octavio Moreno. Both served excellently in their roles. HGO studio alumnus Maria Markina sang a wonderful Pauline/Daphnis. It is always a joy to hear a singer of her caliber treading the boards. And rounding the wonderfully complimentary cast was Catherine Martin as the Governess in a small but impressionable role.
This production was conducted by Carlo Rizzi who was last seen on the HGO podium in 2005. He is truly a master of the baton. Recreating the original direction was Roy Rallo in his HGO debut. With his brilliant interpretation of the original story, it will not be long before we see his work here again. John Macfarlane’s absolutely beautiful sets and costumes made an indelible impact. His exquisite bedroom set with a ceiling point of view was pure theatrical magic. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design only furthered the evening, setting moods that perfectly fit the music. This production also had gorgeous puppets by the Green Ginger puppeteers who mark this production as their HGO debut. Priscilla Nathan Murphy's brilliant choreography intermingles the chorus with the leads creating hectic and stormy environment. Richard Bado once again proves that his chorus is a force to be reckoned with! The Houston Grand Opera Chorus is without a doubt one of the best in the world.
It gives me great discomfort to report that as the creative team took their bows, they were met with both boos and cheers. This Queen of Spades was perhaps one of the most creative nights at the opera I have ever experienced in terms of theatricality and creativity. I am glad that we still know how to applaud great singing talent, though. And that’s all I will say…
For more ticket information and performance times, click here.