As an oppressive character study and insight into the darkness of gambling addiction, Alexander Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades is one of the master narratives of the 19th century. The male protagonist of the story is Hermann, a soldier who is orderly, thrifty and at the same time driven by inner demons. He hears about a countess who is said to guard a valuable secret: she is supposed to know the magic sequence of cards that guarantees that a player will win at games of chance. Hermann gains access to the old lady’s house by pretending to be in love with her foster daughter Lisa. When he threatens the countess with a pistol to get the secret from her, she dies of a heart attack. Later, however, the countess’s ghost finally reveals the (supposedly) lucky cards to Hermann. With the first two, the soldier wins a fortune, but with the last one – from which the titular Queen of Spades seems to sneer at him – he gambles it all away.
In the libretto, written by Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest, Hermann really loves Lisa, and while Pushkin at least lets them escape with their lives, in the opera they both commit suicide. The result is the tragic story of an unfulfillable desire, which also reflects Tchaikovsky’s own fate: as a homosexual, he was unable to find lasting happiness in love within the social conventions of the time.
The conclusion of Kirill Petrenko’s three-part cycle of Tchaikovsky’s operas features Arsen Soghomonyan as Hermann, and soprano Elena Stikhina as Lisa. The contralto Doris Soffel returns to the orchestra as the Countess.