August 24, 2005
Last month I attended a performance of The Queen of Spades at San Francisco Opera. The Russian operas are always very well attended here, so generally there is one each season, though surprisingly, Eugene Onegin was also given earlier in the 2004-2005 season.
The production presented is owned by the Welsh National Opera, and the singers involved were better than the ones the Petersburg production I attended last year. Roy Rallo's stage direction was somewhat tedious. At first it might have been tolerable; the enormous portraits of the title character used as scrims and decor were silly, but not unbearable. The puppet show they put on in Act II was cynical to the point of being moralistic, but also, I could have overlooked this.
But in the last act, second scene, we are looking down into Gherman's room, and the bed was disproportionately large. I knew something was going to occur. The ghost of the Countess popped up as an enormous skeleton, and the singer herself had to sing from backstage. Hanna Schwarz had the best voice of the cast, and I had been looking forward to hearing her one last time. Of course, the absurdity of the staging elicited tittering. Then at the end, the skeleton reappears, peering in through the skylight.