Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is not a disc of highlights from the Tchaikovsky opera, but a balletic condensation of the Pushkin story on which the opera is based. The musical adaptation was made by Gabriel Thibaudeau for Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens de Montréal in 2001. In his accompanying notes, M. Thibaudeau states that “to make the material fit for the ballet framework, we had to cut out many sections (the opera lasts over three hours, the ballet 80 minutes) while at the same time retaining musical coherence. And, just like Tchaikovsky, I had to compose new music to maintain the dramatic tension.” Except for the ambiguous last sentence, this is a fairly accurate statement but, in the interest of the opera-oriented reader, I should
The balletic action unfolds in seven sections. Part 1 (18:37), the longest, sets the mood with the Countess’s aria, “Je crains de lui parler de nuit,” a melody Tchaikovsky borrowed from Grétry for period flavor. Motives associated with Gherman’s troubled character then lead to events occurring in the Private Gaming Club, with the music of Tomsky and his comrades entertaining themselves with the mysterious legend of the “Three Cards,” as the scene concludes with the return of the Grétry melody. Without having seen the ballet, the impression is clearly conveyed that the Old Countess is the drama’s principal character.
Part 2 is misleadingly called “A Park in Leningrad” (for reasons known to its creators, the ballet represents the Soviet era of 1938). This is a lyric episode embracing Pauline’s aria and her duet with Lisa, reasonably true to Tchaikovsky’s music, with a discreet accordion part added to the orchestration. The lengthy part 3 (“Soirée au ballet”) combines the opera’s Mozartian pastoral music and the love themes from the Lisa/Gherman scene. The combination may sound incongruous on paper, but it is no doubt effective choreographically, culminating with an exciting “Pas de deux.” Part 4 (“At the Countess’s Home”) is a skillfully condensed free musical elaboration of the turbulent scene involving, again, the Grétry aria, Gherman breaking the solitude of the frightened Countess, her sudden death, and Lisa’s shocked reaction.
Part 5, called “The Funeral,” opens with Gherman in the barracks, with trumpet sounds in the distance. The ghost of the Countess makes her appearance and reveals the secret of the “Three Cards.” Part 6 (“At the Bridge”) nicely condenses Lisa’s desperate third-act aria with the subsequent intense duet with Gherman and Lisa’s suicide. The concluding part 7 takes us back to the Private Gaming Club, with its busy Prokofiev-style gambling atmosphere. We hear expressions of Gherman’s despair, interwoven reflections of the love music, suggestions of the tragic end, as the “Grétry motive” provides a pianissimo underpainting to Gherman’s dying moments.
Lovers of this opera should know that Prince Yeletsky does not appear in this ballet—nor is he present in the Pushkin novel. Accordingly, there is no reference here of the Prince’s gorgeous aria, which, however justified, is a pity. Still, the ballet is put together with great skill and is undeniably pleasing to the eye and ear. The musical presentation is fine, but the recorded sound, with its lack of depth and immediacy, is somewhat colorless.
FANFARE: George Jellinek
Works on This Recording
Queen of Spades, Op. 68 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal
Written: 1890; Russia
Notes: Arranged: Gabriel Thibaudeau
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