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The Queen of Spades
An Opera by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky


The libretto of Tchaikovsky’s "The Queen of Spades" (also known as "Pique-Dame") was first prepared by the composer’s brother Modeste for a musician who later refused to use it. Tchaikovsky wrote it in six weeks, during a stay in Florence. The libretto is that of the well known story by Pushkin. Herman, the hero, a passionate gambler, loves Lisa, whom he met while walking in the summer garden in St. Petersburg. He learns that she is the grand-daughter of "the belle of St. Petersburg," famous in her old age as the luckiest of card players. So strange is the old lady’s appearance that she has been named "The Queen of Spades." The two women exert conflicting influences over Herman. He loves Lisa, while the old woman awakens his gambling impulses. It is said that the old Countess’s success at the card table is based upon her secret knowledge of a combination of three cards. Herman is bent upon learning the secret. Although Lisa loves Herman she engages herself to Prince Yeletsky. With the hope of forcing the old woman to reveal her secret, he hides in her bedroom one night. When she sees him the shock kills her, and Herman learns nothing. Half-crazed with remorse Herman is haunted by the old Countess’s ghost. The apparition shows him the three cards.





When he goes to her house the night after her funeral and plays against Prince Yeletsky, he wins twice by the cards shown him by the ghost. He stakes everything he possesses on the third card but he turns up, not the expected card, but the queen of spades herself. At the same instant he sees a vision of the Countess, triumphant and smiling. Desperate, Herman ends his life.

Tchaikovsky enjoyed his work on this opera. He wrote as follows to the Grand Duke Constantine: "I composed this opera with extraordinary joy and fervour, and experienced so vividly in myself all that happens in the tale, that at one time I was actually afraid of the spectre of the Queen of Spades. I can only hope that all my creative fervour, my agitation, and my enthusiasm will find an echo in the heart of my audiences." First performend at St. Petersburg in 1890, this opera soon rivaled "Eugene Onegin" in popularity.





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