Neil Bartlett’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s great opera of gambling, of secrets, of love and death opens at Opera North today. Bartlett – making his operatic debut – picks his key moments from the production:
Tchaikovsky’s score for The Queen of Spades is an extraordinary thing. At once expansive, excessive and opulent, it’s also strangely interior; the real action of the opera takes place largely inside one man’s head. As heroes go, no-one is more solitary, more at odds with his world, than Herman. At key moments in the show, I’ve chosen to sweep all the glamour of the 19th century setting aside and present him with brutal simplicity.
The second act of the show opens with a grand masked ball – a scene that could easily drown the music in frocks and glitter. The task here was to connect the disconcerting theatricality of the masquerade with the deeper themes of obsession and fatality that run through the music.
A chorus is much more than just a group of people – they’re a team who can act as one, amplifying an emotion or gesture on stage to a scale that a solitary performer can never dream of achieving. Put the simplest action – knocking back a drink, in this case – in time with music as theatrical as Tchaikovsky’s – then amplified by the number of people you’ve got in the chorus, and the gesture can acquire an extraordinary kick. The simplest tricks are the best.