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The Piqued Dame
(Queen of Spades)

Picture of Queen of Spadesby Tom Reed, Chorus

Act I - Scene 1 - The Park

It's mid-June, and the long-awaited first day of spring has finally arrived in lovely St. Petersburg, the �Venice of the North.� The overjoyed citizenry rush the park, well aware that the return of bleak winter is just a couple weeks away. The chorus is a study in contrasts, as giddy sopranos delight in being in a Russian opera wearing only heavy jackets for a change, while depressed altos moan that it's time to die. The merriment is short lived, however. A pack of wild children briefly invades the square, sending the terrified adults fleeing for safety. But after the All Clear, they return to sing the happy springtime refrain, �Nakanyetsta, bog paslal nam solnyechniy dyenyook!� (�So, that's what the sun looks like!�)

At this point Tchaikovsky attempts to insert a plot. A guy named Gherman is behaving kind of funny, so his friend Tomsky asks him what's wrong. Turns out that Gherman is in love with someone, but he doesn't know who. Sourin and Checkitinsky arrive and congratulate Prince Yeletsky on his engagement to Lisa, who's there with �the Countess,� a Marylyn Monroe rip-off who goes by the unlikely name of Venus d'Moscow. But wait a minute! That's the same one he's in love with. (Lisa, not the Countess.) And she's a card shark. (The Countess, not Lisa.) And they're both in love with the same woman. (Yeletsky and Gherman, not the Countess and Lisa.) And she's got the secret to the winning card combo. It's just starting to make sense when the first thunderstorm of the season hits, barely fifteen minutes after the arrival of spring! Panicked choristers dodge lightning bolts and dash about stage singing, �Graza! Kto b mog azhidat, strasti kakiye! Oodar za oodaram gromchye strashnyeye!� which is pretty much all anyone can say under such circumstances.

Scene 2 - Lisa's Bedroom

Meanwhile, back in Lisa's bedroom she and Paulina sing the light-hearted ditty �Nooka, svytik mashyenka ti patyesh paplyashi,� to which the chorus women are relieved to reply with only a series of relatively pronounceable �Ay, lyuli, lyuli�s. Paulina offers to ask Yeletsky to release her from her engagement (Lisa's to Yeletsky's, not Paulina's to Lisa's) because it seems to have depressed her even more than the weather, but she decides instead to sing a song begging for another lover. Gherman, having read the libretto, appears right on cue.

Act II - Scene 1 - A Ballroom

Yeletsky is miserable about Lisa, Gherman is obsessed with the secret of the three cards, and the chorus knocks itself out twisting and hopping around at what was supposed to be a ball. But all the attention goes to a bunch of puppets that completely steal the show. Even when twisting their heads completely around while singing �Bleestayet solntse krasna! Pastooshka ti pryekrasna!� the chorus fails to draw the audience's attention away from the dummy with the cigarette. Then, just when the chorus starts to get some notice again, who decides to crash the party? Oh, nobody. Just Catherine the Great, Tsaritsa of all the Russias, that all. Ultimately the chorus has no choice but to push all the way down to the lip of the stage and blast out its welcome to the German-born Catherine. �Slafsya seem, Yekatyerina ... slafsya nyezhnaya k nam mat!� (�You seem Slavic, Catherine � you seem Slavic, but you're not!�)

Scene 2 - The Countess's Bedroom

Gherman is just dying to find out the secret of the three cards, so he sneaks into the Countess's bedroom and hides. Never particularly good at timing, he comes popping out demanding the winning combination just as she's having a nice, relaxing bath. Turns out the poor old dear doesn't handle surprises very well. Now with the Countess floating dead in the tub you'd think Gherman might consider being perhaps a little more tactful in the future? Noooo. All he can think about is the three cards � the three cards � Meanwhile Lisa's beginning to suspect that Gherman just might have a wee gambling problem.

Act III - Scene 1- The Barracks

Lisa writes Gherman asking him if he really loves her more than the cards, but he's too busy sleeping with the Countess's skeleton to pay any attention. Aside from being a great way to get a little extra calcium on the side, it proves to be the only way to pry the secret out of her. Her ghostly voice is heard telling him the winning card combination. But unbeknownst to Gherman, she screws up and gets the last card wrong!! So much for pillow talk with the dearly departed.

Scene 2 - An Embankment

Lisa's getting really annoyed. First Gherman kills the Countess, and now he's giving her the brush-off. (Lisa, not the Countess.) Lisa wonders why she ever got involved with a tenor when she could have dated a baritone prince. She'd jump in the river, but doesn't want to have to deal with the costume department, so she suffocates herself with a Ziploc bag.

Scene 3 - The Casino

It's the big card game. The chorus men are drunk as usual, and things get pretty kinky. Gherman, convinced that the ghost of the Countess gave him the correct sequence of the winning cards, bets 40,000 rubles ($1.17) on the first card, and wins! He ups the ante and wins again on the second card. So of course now that he has a chance, the house refuses to play any more. But ever helpful Yeletsky steps forward to challenge him � no small task when standing on a heavily tilted gambling table. As Checkitoutsky flips the final card, Gherman confidently proclaims that it is the ace. EEHHHH! WRONG! It's the queen of spades. Couldn't he have figured that out from the name of the show? I swear, most tenors just don't have both elevators in the water.

Well, now Gherman's really pissed for having trusted the bonehead Countess, but who's he going to kill this time? A chorister? Who would care? So, just to get it out of his system, he shoots himself. The chorus men, noticing that he's not quite dead yet, make a mad dash for the dressing rooms in hopes of beating the audience to the parking lots. But they stop offstage just long enough to sing a fabulous final chorus based on the old Slavonic hymn, �Pardon me boy, is that izmoochyennooyoo dooshoo?�