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James A. Altena
Fanfare, January 2012

The chorus is excellent…The recorded sound is entirely satisfactory…this performance is enthusiastically recommended, and is an outside candidate for the 2012 Want List. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, November 2011

it was immediately appealing to me…All the voices seemed particularly good, full and pleasingly sounding and the Blu-ray audio quality is easily the equal of any I have heard during the past few months as is the orchestral performance (same goes for the video quality). © 2011 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Lawrence Devoe, August 2011

The Performance

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, best known for his symphonic and balletic scores, was also a prolific opera composer. After Evgeny Onegin, Pique Dame is his most performed opera. Pique Dame is based on Pushkin’s short story of a troubled Russian army officer who sees his way to fortune by obtaining the secret to winning at card games. The officer, Herman, encounters a vulnerable young woman, Lisa, whose grandmother, the Countess, has the secret to the winning hand. Herman eventually steals this secret only to have it fail him at the critical moment. His suicide at the gambling table, after seeing the spirit of the old Countess whom he had frightened to death, is one of the great dramatic moments in all of opera.

This 2010 Barcelona production, in period costume and settings, goes to great lengths to recreate the excitement at the work’s premiere. To a large degree, it succeeds in this respect. With the exception of soprano Emily Magee (Lisa), contralto Ewa Podles (Countess) and baritone Ludovic Tezier (Prince Yeletsky), the cast will be largely unfamiliar to many non-European viewers. Fortunately, the major roles of Herman (Mischa Didyk) and Tomsky (Lado Ataneli) are in good hands. Michael Boder, music director of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, paces his forces adroitly and supports his singers superbly. The videography is at Opus Arte’s usual high standard.

Video Quality

There is an off-the-screen palpability to this production. The costumes and settings are simply outstanding in the best grand opera tradition. The videography is as good as it gets for an opera production. The colors and details as evidenced in the Act II pastorale sequence are eye-popping. With plenty of close ups, it is fortunate that most of the principals are reasonably telegenic. The sole yet important exception is soprano Magee who appears too matronly for her ingenue role.

Audio Quality

Tchaikovsky wrote some of the most atmospheric music on the planet and this score is no exception. The sound engineers receive high praise for near perfect balance between singers and the orchestra. Maestro Boder who has led his players for the past three years elicits a fine sense of detail from the pit that helps the dramatic sense of this piece immensely. Of course it does not hurt that vocal performances turned in by most of the soloists and chorus are first rate. There is a very modest contribution from the surround channels in the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.

Supplemental Materials

There is a cast picture gallery but nary a word about this opera or its production. With a work such as Pique Dame that is rarely performed on this side of the pond, I find this lack of information regrettable.

The Definitive Word


There are several echt Russian productions, including DVDs from the Kirov and Bolshoi companies. However, the theoretical advantage of having native Russian speakers is only important if the vocalism and theatricality are up to snuff. None of the Pique Dames that I have seen previously are without musical or theatrical flaws, some quite serious. Nor do they have the visual magnificence of this lone BD offering. With the exception of Magee’s Lisa, whose Russian is unidiomatic and whose characterization lacks spark, the remainder of this international cast is simply superb. Young Ukrainian tenor, Mischa Didyk, is a Hollywood-handsome Herman and a credible suitor for Lisa. The Countess, usually an end-of-career role for once-prominent female singers, is handled dramatically and vocally by noted Polish contralto Ewa Podles. Her chilling portrayal is easily the best that I have ever seen. Ludovic Tezier, a well regarded French baritone, gives a stellar performance as Prince Yeletsky. Herr Boder’s leadership from the pit keeps everything going beautifully. The traditional sets and costumes are flat out gorgeous. Gilbert Deflo’s direction is spot on as is the videography. In sum, while there is no dearth of video Pique Dames out there, this one wins handily on just about all counts. Opus Arte, you have another winner in your catalog!

Jeffrey Kauffman, July 2011

Everyone probably has completely trivial memories seared into their synapses for no other reason than that they were so utterly, inescapably ridiculous. One of my favorite hilarious adolescent memories was catching a little bit of an old Pyramid game show (I think when it still had some sort of dollar figure prefixing its title) and the category had something to do with music. The answer “Tchaikovsky” came up and the contestant blurted out the timeless clue, “Not Beethoven, the other one,” at which point the celebrity player, as if on cue, stated firmly “Tchaikovsky!” Ding!—point earned. This struck me as so completely absurd that I dissolved into helpless giggles, and as I recall, I actually had to turn off the television because I was simply laughing too hard to even hear what was going on. The sheer lunacy of this clue and then a correct guess had me in such fits I could hardly breathe. If you had been presented with that incredible clue, would you have thought of Tchaikovsky? Bach, sure. Even Brahms. Heck, maybe even Karlheinz Stockhausen (I jest, of course). But Tchaikovsky? The mind boggles. “Not Beethoven, the other one” has become a mantra of sorts in my family life, a shorthand for the everyday absurdities which nevertheless seem to instantly make sense to others, as the phrase obviously did to the celebrity.

Now as odd as it may seem to anyone who has even a mere pittance of knowledge about classical composers, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven might in fact be linked for at least one reason other than being coupled together in one of the funniest game show moments ever (at least to some easily amused viewers): neither composer, as iconic as they both inarguably are, ever made much of an impact in the operatic world. Beethoven is certainly even less prolific than Tchaikovsky in this regard. At least Peter Ilyich managed to crank out two handfuls of operas over his brief lifetime, but only two of them are ever performed with much regularity, Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades (Pique Dame). One of the things that may strike armchair psychoanalysts as being at least a little strange about this dearth of output is that Tchaikovsky especially seems rather well suited temperamentally for the hyperbolic emotional content of opera. His life careened from tragedy to tragedy, his interpersonal relationships were frequently roiled with dissension and downright devolution, and there are many of course who still insist his death was self-inflicted. But Tchaikovsky seemed more well equipped to pour this inner torment into orchestral rather than vocal music, as if he needed an escape from rather than an adaptation (so to speak) of his personal problems.

Video Quality

Pique Dame is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Opus Arte, with an AVC encoded 1080i transfer in 1.78:1. This is a visual presentation which seems to depend largely on what camera and/or angle is being used in terms of how sharp the image is. Generally the wide shots which take in the entire proscenium suffer from overall softness and a somewhat blurred, fuzzy image. On the other hand, the many shots featuring close-ups or even midrange coverage exhibit really excellent sharpness and clarity, and it’s in these shots where the truly gorgeous costumes and sets are most resplendent, with really nicely saturated color and a generally clean, artifact free presentation. Black levels are really excellent throughout this piece, and that’s important because director Deflo plays with various apertures created by drawing the curtains to different openings, almost as if a film featured several aspect ratios, and despite this approach, there’s little if any crush evident even as the background black areas vary widely in size and scope.

Audio Quality

Pique Dame features two excellent lossless audio options, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix and an LPCM 2.0 stereo fold down. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is very nicely balanced between the excellent orchestral forces and the often exceptional principal cast and ensemble. Winds and reeds sound especially nice throughout this mix, including some wonderful work by the clarinetist. All of the vocalists sound at least very good, and in the case of Didyk and Tézier, a good deal better than that. Dynamic range is very impressive throughout the track, as Tchaikovsky provides huge changes in dynamics at the drop of a hat throughout the score. Fidelity is also very strong, and the surround mix provides a very appealing hall ambience. There are some occasional actual performance synching issues, where the ensemble especially tends not to jibe exceptionally well with the orchestral accompaniment, but these are relatively minor passing issues that ultimately don’t detract from the overall sonic impact of the score and track.

Special Features and Extras

Only a Cast Gallery (1080i; 1:05) is included on the disc. The insert booklet includes the requisite brief essay and plot synopsis.

Overall Score and Recommendation

A musical version of the Whoopi Goldberg-Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore film Ghost is currently playing in London (with a score co-written by the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart), but one could argue at least partially feasibly that the Tchaikovsky brothers scanned much the same territory with Pique Dame. True, the Ghost here is bent on revenge, not reuniting with a former lover, and in fact the love story here may well be between Hermann and the cash he desires seemingly more than anything, but the supernatural element is one of the most distinctive things about this opera, and it’s one which this opulent production masters quite handily. If this production isn’t exactly bursting with innovation, it’s at least solid musically and offers an incredibly opulent production design. Recommended.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2011

Feast your eyes on Gilbert Deflo’s glittering production of The Queen of Spades filmed last year from the stage of Barcelona’s Liceu Theatre. Taking the opera back to St. Petersburg in the days of Catherine the Great, Delfo’s designer, William Orlandi, has created large and magnificent stage sets occupied by a glamorous array of colorful costumes for this large cast, chorus and ballet. Sadly such stagings now seem beyond the wit of most new generation opera directors, so take this rare opportunity to see a work performed as the composer intended. The story is of the young man, Hermann, who hears the story of the old Countess who, in payment for a night spent with her, learned the gambling secret of ‘the three cards’ from an alchemist. Hermann becomes hell-bent on extracting the information from her so as to win a fortune at the gaming table that would enable him to offer marriage to the Countess’s granddaughter, Lisa. And so the story unfolds with its inevitable deadly conclusion. The casting here—it is sung in the original Russian—largely comes from Eastern Europe and stars Misha Didyk, a handsome tenor with a big and lyric voice. He is almost upstaged by the magnificent voice of the baritone, Ludovic Tezier, in the role of Prince Yeletsky, a rival for the affections of Lisa. Emily Magee, more vocally robust than we have come to expect in the part, fills out her big arias with a wealth of tonal beauty. Ewa Podles—once a Naxos artist—takes the role of the ageing Countess, and notable among the remaining cast is the warm and resonant Lado Ataneli as Count Tomsky. The second act ballet scene, on the subject of Daphnis and Chloe, follows the mood of this ‘money is no object’ production, while the sizeable male section of the chorus make a visually mobile gambling scene in the final act. The orchestra play very well, though you may find a few of the tempos from the conductor, Michael Boder, a little foursquare, while the decision to make amateurish the piano playing in Lisa’s room is much exaggerated. The filming is very good in capturing the full extent of the stage, and at the same time remembering this is a very personal story. There is the option of subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and Catalan. The Blu-ray is superb both visually and in sound quality, and there is also a standard DVD alternative on OA1050 (two discs).

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