Teatro di San Carlo opened its opera season with a work which is not usual for the Neapolitan stage: Pique Dame (Queen of Spades), by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, set to a libretto by his younger brother, Modest, based on Pushkin. It is a production by the Staatsoper Hamburg, directed by Willy Decker, revived in Naples by Stefan Heinrichs, with scenes and costumes by Wolfgang Gussmann.

Misha Didyk (Hermann) and Anna Nechaeva (Lisa) © Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia
Misha Didyk (Hermann) and Anna Nechaeva (Lisa)
© Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia

Decker does not try to make the structure of the plot any clearer with the aid of richly decorated sets, mainly concentrating on the deeper meaning of the opera. The only props around the four black, massive pillars on stage, were a gigantic portrait of Greta Garbo (representing the young Countess), some armchairs and a long table. The stage was kept quite dark and this helped the director (and us) to concentrate on the inner personalities of the protagonists. Some grumblings arose among the experts because of the cut of the pastorale interlude of Act 2, but all in all, the story was powerfully exploited by Decker's staging.

Tchaikovsky's score is beautifully inspired, even though the libretto is hard to follow, as Modest complicates Pushkin’s clearer story more than necessary. In this story of love and obsession the composer delivers some of his most beautiful examples of operatic musical development. At San Carlo, the cast was excellent.

Anna Nechaeva (Lisa) © Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia
Anna Nechaeva (Lisa)
© Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia

In the role of Hermann, Misha Didyk revealed a powerful tenor and strong stage presence; he showed excellent acting skills and vocal control. His fervent passion was palpable in his imploring aria of Act 1. Here Didyk was at his best, as his penetrating singing reflected his intense passion.

Soprano Anna Nechaeva played Lisa with dramatic depth, showing utter confidence in her technique, as she displayed a wide range of emotions in her voice. Her aria in Act 3, a desperate song of strong impact, revealed a warm clarity and richness in her upper register.

The Countess, sung by Julia Gertseva, had a severe and profound voice, poignant and bewitching, and excellently projected, too. Gertseva brought confidence in her intense performance. She was a solid presence on the stage, her mezzo-soprano showing a stiffness that suited the Countess' tough nature.

Julia Gertseva (The Countess) © Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia
Julia Gertseva (The Countess)
© Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia

Baritone Tómas Tómasson as Count Tomsky, Herman's friend, has a very pleasant, full depth timbre and natural dramatic flair. Tomsky is assigned two memorable arias, both of which were outstanding in Tómasson's rendition.

Prince Yeletsky was nobly interpreted by the baritone Maksim Aniskin who sang formidably in his higher register, including a noble interpretation of “Ya vas lyublyu”, where he confesses his love to Lisa, singing with sincere passion and an elegant baritone.

As Lisa’s companion Polina, Aigul Akhmetshima displayed a powerful mezzo-soprano, with an asserting firmness in the voice that gave her singing an ear-catching tension. Sofia Tumanian was a generous Masha, one of Lisa’s maids.

<i>Pique Dame</i> © Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia
Pique Dame
© Luciano Romano e Francesco Squeglia

The Teatro di San Carlo orchestra and chorus were excellent like rarely before, the latter precise and clean, with perfect Russian diction. Conductor Juraj Valčuha is quite experienced in Russian, and more generally Slavic, repertoire and here he confirmed his ability to manage the almost symphonic traits that are crucial to this drama. He was particularly attentive to the emotional climaxes of the romance. Nevertheless, he never prevailed on his singers, and ensured that not a word was lost in the musical turmoil.

*****