Review: Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame / Bayerische Staatsoper

Bayerische Staatsoper, München, 17 February 2024

Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame

The plot of Tchaikovsky’s opera Pique Dame can be placed in almost any context today, and over the years there have been all sorts of attempts to come up with something innovative and creative while retaining the psychological core of the opera. In his new production at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Benedict Andrews tries to focus on the characters – especially Herman, who appears here as the strange, mysterious Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver – in a film noir style. It is certainly not a provocative piece of Regietheater; if you break the opera down and watch each scene separately, there is always something appealing, and the psychological core of the opera is not lost, but it is somewhat monotonous and static over the course of almost three hours. The problem is that Andrews neglects so many elements of the opera: it is, after all, an opera about society as a whole, not just individuals and their fates. Rufus Didwiszus’ set is extremely minimalist: the stage is almost entirely bare and dark, with various objects shifting in the opera’s seven scenes.

Foto: Wilfried Hösl

The young Uzbek conductor Aziz Shokhakimov is making his house debut and on the whole, he delivers a solid interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s rich score and shows an excellent sense of musical drama and interaction with what is happening on stage. However, he does not put much of a personal touch on the music. The orchestra and chorus also deliver a brilliant and compact performance.

Baritones Roman Burdenko and Boris Pinkhasovich give solid performances as Tomsky and Yeletsky respectively, as does mezzo-soprano Victoria Karkacheva as Polina. Violeta Urmana has had a long and successful career as both a soprano and a mezzo, and now she steps down to the role of the Countess, for which she shows that she has the expressive vocal depth.

It has been interesting to follow Asmik Grigorian’s career since her breakthrough as Butterfly at the Royal Swedish Opera in 2014, and I have never heard her fit a role so perfectly as in the role of Liza. Her voice has the ideal mix of warmth and power with a wide range of nuances – she portrays a passionate, desperate Liza.

Unfortunately, Brandon Jovanovich does not convince at all in the leading role of Herman. His voice is far too lyrical and lacks the dramatic power to convey the character’s psychological battle. He also misses all the high notes in the first act and sings all the high notes in falsetto in the killing aria at the end of the opera. A terrible miscast in every respect.

Read also Record Guide: Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame

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