Tchaikovsky The Queen of Spades Delos

Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2003 and the recording is still available.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93)
The Queen of Spades – Great Scenes
Sergei Larin (tenor) Hermann; Elena Prokina (soprano) Lisa; Vassili Gerello (baritone) Tomsky; Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone) Yeletsky; Elena Obraztsova (mezzo) Countess
Spiritual Revival Choir of Russia
Philharmonia of Russia/Constantine Orbelian.
rec. 2001/02, Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory, Russia 
Transliterated text and translation included
Delos DE3289 [78]

Delos is at pains to point out that this is not your run-of-the-mill highlights disc. This is the first issue in a series entitled ‘Great Scenes’, aiming to capture the essence of an opera on one CD or SACD. The idea is to ‘preserve the flow of an opera’s story and character portrayal’.

The line-up of soloists is certainly an impressive one. It is wonderful to note that Elena Prokina takes the part of Lisa; and Dmitri Hvorostovsky hardly needs any introduction.

Queen of Spades is, indeed, one of Tchaikovsky’s sublime masterworks, and Executive Producer Amelia Haygood’s eloquent avowal of allegiance on the booklet’s back cover is entirely justified. This opera requires a performance which is unwavering in its belief. For the most part, this newcomer is remarkably impressive in this respect. The quality of the orchestral contribution is made clear in the Prelude, in which Orbelian gets the Philharmonia of Russia to sculpt lovely, yearning lines.

Latvian tenor Sergei Larin takes the part of Hermann. His voice is firm, his diction good. However, his opening avowal of love is not fully sustained, so that when he sings, ‘That another might possess her while I do not dare to kiss her footprints, consumes me with jealousy’, it is mightily difficult to believe him. However, his scene from Act 3 (‘Poor thing! What an abyss …’), with its dramatically effective choral interjections, does genuinely present Hermann’s fear convincingly. Vassily Gerello is more inside his part (Tomsky) in his ‘One day at Versailles’. He regales us with his tale in a firm bass, moving inexorably towards the climax, ‘Tri karty’ (‘Three cards’).

Marina Domaschenko, as Paulina, is listed as a mezzo but her voice is almost that of a contralto, which gives her song a sad air and means her repetitions of ‘Mogila’ (‘Grave’) are truly ominous. She also has an ability to make recitatives highly dramatic.

Prokina makes her mark in the next excerpt, a passage that features Lisa (Prokina) and Masha (later also Hermann). Prokina is particularly beautiful of voice, clean of intonation and articulation and yet also emotive. It says a lot that in the first excerpt from Act Two (‘You are so sad, my dear’), a passage dominated by Yeletsky, Liza’s one line is so precisely characterised it remains in the memory above and beyond Hvorostovsky’s avowals of love, but this is not to imply Hvorostovsky is a failure.

Elena Obraztsova shares the laurels with Prokina, for her account of her Act 2 Scene 2 aria (‘O how I detest today’s world’). Obraztsova’s range is little short of amazing, her tone that of double cream.

There is an element of fun to this recording, too, in Tomsky’s song ‘If sweet maidens’, wherein again the chorus makes the most of its contributions.

The casting of this disc is fascinating, with Obraztsova very well established, and with Domaschenko not yet thirty years old. Perhaps it is this mix which gives this recording a feeling of spontaneity and excitement. Very strongly recommended.

Colin Clarke

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Presto Music
Arkiv Music


I do not know her name
One day at Versailles (Tri karti)
I’ll sing for you
Why those tears
Forgive me, heavenly creature
You are so sad … I love you
Oh, how I detest today’s world
Do not be frightened
Poor thing! What an abyss
I am so frightened
Midnight is near
What if the clock chimes
We will drink and be happy
If sweet maidens
What is our life?

Other cast
Marina Domaschenko (mezzo) Pauline; Irina Vaschenko (soprano) Masha; Alexei Maslov (baritone) Chekalinsky

See RM’s survey for a further endorsement of this recording.