December 11, 2003
Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Gambling Away Love

Pikowaja Dama in a co-production with the Polish National Opera in Warsaw


Peter Iljitsch Tschaikowsky
Pikowaja Dama


Staatsoper Unter den Linden
Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Director: Mariusz Trelinski
Set Designer: Boris Kudlička
Costume Designer: Magdalena Teslawska, Pawel Grabarczyk
Light Designer: Franz Peter David Chorus Master: Eberhard Friedrich
Choreographer: Emil Wesolowski
Dramaturgy: Ilka Seifert

Herman: Victor Lutsiuk
Count Tomski: Hanno Müller-Brachmann
Prince Jeletzki: Roman Trekel
Chekalinski: Martin Homrich
Sourin: Martin Snell
Tchaplitsky: Andreas Schmidt
Narumov: Gerd Wolf
Majordomo: Juri Bogdanov
Countess: Ute Trekel-Burckhardt
Lisa: Angela Denoke
Polina: Ekaterina Sementschuk
Governess: Barbara Heising
Masha: Adriane Queiroz

Demons: Piotr Nowakowski, Tomasz Nerkowski, Michal Ciecka, Krysztof Balsinski

Staatskapelle Berlin

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

Gambling Away Love

Pikowaja Dama in a co-production with the Polish National Opera in Warsaw

Von Nancy Chapple

The Intendant - the most important figure in a German opera house - personally came on stage and announced "Placido Domingo will not be able to sing tonight. He had hoped until the very last moment to be able to do so, and he is in his dressing room even now - but he will not." The audience broke into sighs of horror and boos, a couple dozen people stood up to leave. He continued, "Ladies and gentlemen, you can boo a performance - but not Domingo!" On this evening, the role of Hermann was sung by Victor Lutsiuk. Thereafter there was much whispering between the scenes, and some people left when he began to sing, refusing to even give him a chance.

As the performance was in Russian with German supertitles, this reviewer can refer to specific passages only by using the German text. Lutsiuk had a sweet and warm but somewhat weak voice. For instance, the winds covered his voice when he sang "Ein Traumbild behaust meine Seele". In Barenboim's musical interpretation, we felt the strange irony in the duet between Hermann and the Fürst: the sung words express the opposite of the harmonious music to which they sing. The two are at complete cross-purposes, and their immense conflicts are portrayed to beautiful music. The quintet, where the varied intentions of the male protagonists are complicated by further differing motivations, was quite lovely.

The first entrance of the children's choir, extremely high, was sung quite sharp; they were stronger for their second entrance.

The storm arises very suddenly in the orchestra, with frightening orchestration in lower brass and percussion. The stage representation of the storm was riveting: a screen at the back showed low-lying, fast-moving clouds coming toward us with occasional flashes of lightning. The director, Mariusz Trelinski, stresses that he believes in the signal importance of images; they were easy to read in this interpretation.

The second act opened with a lovely duo; Ekaterina Sementschuk as Polina brought a typically Russian vocal quality to the singing. The governess's aria in minor (sung by Barbara Heising) was also perfect in its phrasing and vibrato.

Angela Denoke as Lisa had a very powerful, commanding voice and she phrased carefully. When accompanied by violins and harp in long, slow bars, her voice sounded sunny and bright. Easily influenced by her grandmother and friends, by both the men who desire her, we sense her youth and vulnerability in her highly expressive body language.

Hermann's violent gestures towards her were shocking: he came from behind, covering her mouth to keep her from screaming. It felt like he was using uncalled for force - making it harder to believe that Lisa later falls madly in love with him. This was perhaps due to Lutsiuk's unfamiliarity with playing the role in this production. Here too, the orchestra overwhelmed his voice.

The scenery in the second act in the casino is in brilliant colors of British racing green, gold and purple, colors that at first wouldn't seem to fit together, the dresses in the same shades and jagged patterns as the walls. But one was quickly won over. The choir sounded brilliant: the color was set by the sopranos, and the men's voices responded. In the third act too, scenic motives were repeated between the set and the costumes, with red and black stripes on the walls of the casinos and the gamblers' costumes.

The Fürst's aria of love to Lisa is structured in a classic way: the singer and some of the instruments are on beat; lower brass and strings accompany on the less emphasized beats. However, Barenboim filled the harmonic movement in the offbeats with rich color, adding a surprising depth to what could have been a straightforward passage. Finally in II, 2 Hermann sang above the very active, colorful orchestra. The colors in the orchestra became ever more moving towards the end, for instance when accompanying the Gräfin - expressive oboe and pizzicato strings, with a sinister bassoon ending. The opening of the third act with military band and women's choir offstage was beautiful. Again, the stage setting was convincing: a wooden bridge and the surface of water at the back of the stage. The intense interior life of Lisa's soul was reflected in the orchestra.

Just when this reviewer felt convinced of the whole show, someone next to her said, "This has got to be the letdown of the year." Many listeners were apparently unable to get beyond their disappointment that Domingo was not singing that evening.

(Unfortunately, the Staatsoper does not provide us with photos)