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Your Reaction: What did you think of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades?

Audience responses and press reviews of Stefan Herheim's staging of Tchaikovsky's ambitious opera.

By Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media))

14 January 2019 at 4.09pm | 87 Comments

Press reviews:
Evening Standard ★★★★
MusicalOMH ★★★★
Arts Desk ★★★
Bachtrack ★★★
Financial Times ★★★
Independent ★★★
Telegraph ★★
Guardian ★★
The Times ★★
The Stage ★★
Broadway World 

What did you think of The Queen of Spades?
Let us know via the comments below.

The Queen of Spades is a co-production with Dutch National Opera. Tickets are still available.

The production will be broadcast live to cinemas on 22 January. Find a cinema near you.

The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Ruth and Stuart Lipton, Fondation Peters, The Mikheev Charitable Trust, John and Susan Singer, The Tsukanov Family Foundation, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund, the Maestro's Circle and an anonymous donor. The position of Music Director Maestro Antonio Pappano is generously supported by Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE

By Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media))

14 January 2019 at 4.09pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Stefan Herheim, review, Social Media, Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades, your reaction

This article has 87 comments

  1. Michael Steel responded on 14 January 2019 at 5:27pm Reply

    Overall, a poor production. Most operagoers know that Tchaikovsky was a tortured, repressed homosexual. Having that point rammed home throughout the opera, at the expense of Pushkin's story, made for a thoroughly irritating three hours at ROH.
    The two main principals were painfully untuneful, at times. Redeeming features were Maestro Pappano's blazing account of the score, with the excellent ROH Orchestra and the fine Chorus, some very theatrical scenes ( foremost, was the entrance of the Empress, on stage, greeted by the Chorus, amongst the stalls) and the chandelier morphing into a Russian Orthodox Incense burner. Apart from that, I preferred to watch the Conductor, at work..
    Good work by Felicity Palmer and some of the younger singers, in the minor parts.

    • Anne responded on 16 January 2019 at 9:06am

      I am glad to hear about the theatrical entrance of the Empress of Russia. Unfortunately because the audience in the stalls were encouraged to stand up I was unable to see anything other than the backs of those in front of me.

    • Nicholas Vincent responded on 25 January 2019 at 6:39am

      Yes. One of the more grotesque misfires of recent years. And ironic that this should be in a piece that normally crackles with dramatic tension. The staging would have been incomprehensible to anybody who did not already know the plot. Tchaikovsky himself would have hated it.

  2. Ann O'Shaughnessy responded on 14 January 2019 at 8:00pm Reply

    I loved it!! The Tchaikovsky/Prince Yeletsky element was confusing to begin with but soon made sense. The music on all fronts was wonderful and the set and costumes were a joy - such clever use of the stage space. Well done to all concerned . There was a stunned silence when the final curtain fell before the applause began , and it grew in volume as the curtain calls were taken. I definitely did NOT hear any booing.

  3. Movshuk Oleksandr responded on 15 January 2019 at 12:50am Reply

    The Telegraph review gave you just TWO stars, not three.

  4. Stephen Jay-Taylor responded on 15 January 2019 at 4:21am Reply

    God-awful beyond mere mortal powers of description, and nothing whatsoever to do with the opera Tchaikovsky bothered to write, here treated as no more than a peg on which to hang instead the sort of lurid biopic Ken Russell used to dish up in the 1970s. All smoke and mirrors and not an ounce of integrity or Werktreue for nigh-on three hours, coupled with two principals neither of whom can actually sing their roles. A total write-off.

  5. Dr. Ksenia Sutton responded on 15 January 2019 at 6:01pm Reply

    Music of a genius, a world class conductor and a primitive interpretation that spoliled it all for me. I wish people with lack of taste and creativity left masterpieces alone. I had to close my eyes to be able to enjoy one of my favourite operas just like I had to close my eyes when Carmen appeared in the costume of gorilla on the stage in opera Carmen. I am a bit annoyed ROH stages poor sub-standard productions like this...

  6. Celina Fox responded on 15 January 2019 at 9:42pm Reply

    I found the production jejune. So. The director is Norwegian, gay and catholic. Get over it! Why does he feel the need to project himself (aka Tchaikovsky) onto the genius of the music? He just gets in the way of appreciating the opera, the lead singers and the staging. Fine work by the designer, if over-busy movement of set in the first half and hampered re costume by having to cater for two periods. Excellent orchestra and chorus. Herman needs acting refresher course....

  7. George Treethorn responded on 15 January 2019 at 9:47pm Reply

    I found this dreadfully disappointing. I'm not against Regietheater per se. But QoS is not exactly core repertoire – I've never even seen it before – and I would have appreciated the opportunity to see the work staged as the composer and librettist intended. By all means deconstruct the established repertoire (who wants to see another period Boheme?) but let the less well known operas speak for themselves please.

  8. Alex Burnett responded on 16 January 2019 at 11:45am Reply

    There was much to applaud in the orchestral and choral contributions, in the vivid supporting roles, even to admire in the efficiency of presentation. But the central distraction of a double plot robbed the work of its rich emotional power. How could we be moved by such an unpleasant Hermann? Moreover, the tenor's vocal inadequacy was severely embarrassing.

  9. John Rose responded on 16 January 2019 at 2:23pm Reply

    i agree very much with your first blog,(Michael Steel). Rarely have I come out of a performance so the excellent Pappano...orchestra..chorus.....but .the remainder was pretty dreadful.
    . I would just add that Vladimir Stoyanov, in his ROH debut deserves special praise,although I'm not sure how many "doubles" of his were on display. Also how good to hear John Lundgren again,such lovely, even, cantabile singing,after his excellent debut as Wotan some months ago. And Paulina,too, was strongly cast.

    Finally I just hope that this production is a hang -over from the "Holten era" with his utter fixation on regietheater. Too many recent productions, Meistersinger...House of the Dead....Carmen...and now this were, no doubt,conceived on his "watch".
    Oliver Mears...are you listening?

    • Michaela responded on 19 January 2019 at 8:55pm

      Seeing it on January 19th and second your views regret having booked this one - not the first one by Herheim / Dörzinger that left us disappointed

  10. John M. responded on 16 January 2019 at 4:31pm Reply

    I was very disappointed in this production. Here was an opportunity to reassess an opera which one does not get to see very often on its own terms but this chance fell victim (as has often been the case in recent years) to a director’s concept - I say concept but it was more of a conceit really. The Tchaikovsky overload got in the way of his own opera and did not give any real insights into what Pikovaya Dama is really about. I would have liked to see a much deeper delineation of character and relationships, lacking here. The chandelier turned thurible spewing incense to the haunting chanting off stage after the countess’ death struck me, as did the chorus singing from the stalls. Orchestra and chorus were on top form I was disappointed with Westbroek on this occasion and Gherman disappointed both vocally and dramatically

  11. Glynne Williams responded on 16 January 2019 at 9:01pm Reply

    Bitterly disappointed in the fussy, pretentious production. Apart from the constant interference by 'Tchaikovsky' in the action, he could neither conduct in time, nor look as if he was playing the piano. The music and plot totally spoiled by such nonsense. Oh, for a re-run of David Pountney's superb production for ENO!

  12. Mark responded on 16 January 2019 at 10:50pm Reply

    I fear I will be haunted by this opera forever. Never again will I be able to listen to Tchaikovsky without imagining a stage full of conducting, or miming conductors. Beautiful music but the interpretation really got in the way of the story.... and Tchaikovsky was, well, just downright irritating.

  13. Olga Tylman responded on 16 January 2019 at 11:20pm Reply

    I loved the concept. It added an additional, poignantly pervasive element of longing and also detachment, which enhanced the story throughout and allowed me better to relate my own experience to it. I was far from the stage but it looked gorgeous from up there too.

  14. Lisa responded on 17 January 2019 at 12:15am Reply

    Well... the cholera bug must have infected Royal Opera House. What a triumph of talentless over a genius. A moustache drawn over Mona Lisa. F graffiti on a Stradivari's violin. Sorry cast and musicians - they are afraid of losing their income, so they must have to keep quiet and cringe at all this in silence. If the director wants his tale about homosexuality and craze, let him write his own opera. He is as much acting as a parasite on Tchaikovsky's lovely music, as a cholera bug would try to use human body to proliferate. Well, I wish the director to have a sip himself from the glass with the cholera water that he spilt over the Russian cultural treasure.

  15. Richard Webb responded on 17 January 2019 at 9:31am Reply

    This was a travesty. The composer would have been horrified. A simple almost chamber opera with just three main characters destroyed by the huge ego of the director. Let's just see what the composer and librettist intended us to see.
    At least we know now which director to avoid.

    • Peter Ambrose responded on 17 January 2019 at 11:09am

      "At least we know now which director to avoid"

      Agreed. Katy Mitchell and now Herheim.

  16. Michael Normington responded on 17 January 2019 at 10:57am Reply

    A profoundly irritating and disappointing evening, with a production with a flawed main concept, which torpedoed any dramatic intensity, and which was totally lacking in sublety. Why does the ROH entrust Tchaikovsky's masterpieces to people who have no love of the work? Redeemed only by the exemplary playing in the pit and an object lesson in performing from the great Felicity Palmer. I would rather take the glass than see this travesty again!

  17. Peter Ambrose responded on 17 January 2019 at 10:59am Reply

    It is certainly interesting in concept to include parallels with the composer - but in practice the level of intrusion is very unwelcome and just gets in the way of enjoyment of the opera.

    Largely very well sung all round with the exception of the late replacement for Antonenko on the 16th. Can someone please tell us who he was as there is no reference to this anywhere else on the website.

    • Edmund responded on 17 January 2019 at 5:10pm

      Sergey Polyakov

      ROH it's appears now has a policy of not printing cast change slips and they no longer feel it necessary to announce them on social media

    • Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media)) responded on 17 January 2019 at 5:39pm

      Hi Edmund,

      This cast change was a last minute cast change but was announced before the performance and shown on our Front of House screens. All cast changes are shown on the screens in the Front of House areas - and we are limiting our printed cast slips to lessen our environmental impact. That said, last night's cast change was too short notice to print any cast slips at all. Sorry for the inconvenience.


  18. Laura Fraser responded on 17 January 2019 at 11:23am Reply

    I found the whole evening confusing and annoying. At sometimes I wondered whether I was at the ROH or watching a pantomime. The only redeeming feature was the orchestra’s contribution. I think it is the worst production I have ever seen!

  19. Adrie van der Luijt responded on 17 January 2019 at 12:08pm Reply

    It is very rare for me to skip the second half of a production. But between the immensely irritating on-stage composer, the vomit-inducing moveaboutery of the scenery and the bloke in front of me talking throughout as if he was watching television, I left during the interval. Much as I wanted to support my fellow Dutch national Eva Maria Westbroek, there were too many elements in this production that grated. Any chance of real pathos was killed off by the misguided concept. Please let the music speak for itself.

  20. Peter responded on 17 January 2019 at 12:44pm Reply

    I thought the production was revelatory. The opera made sense to me at last . Its interesting that on twitter the comments seem mostly favourable but here mostly disappointed or outraged. There are clearly two audiences at Covent Garden and long may it continue! I will put up with all those superannuated "much beloved" productions as long as we can have fresh work like this too. Whats wrong with trying things out? Opera is not a museum!

  21. David Edmonds responded on 17 January 2019 at 1:22pm Reply

    My wife and I buy tickets for every production at the ROH and over the years have seen a vast number of brilliant operas, finely sung, often many times. I am not, pace the last correspondent, outraged. We love experimental and new productions.But this was truly silly. I had my hands over my eyes at some scenes.
    We will never ever go to see this mess of a production again. Pappano and the band were wonderful, most of the singers tried, Palmer was touching,but the direction, was appalling. Too much business,confusing, and a vast disappointment.

  22. Terry Osborne responded on 17 January 2019 at 2:47pm Reply

    What a load of puerile rubbish. A fine opera was totally destroyed by the nonsense taking place on stage. Unfortunately, closing one’s eyes did not help as Antonenko and Westbroek were having an off night. The highlights were Felicity Palmer, the orchestra and chorus. Difficult to understand why Pappano puts up with direction that destroys the musicality and emotional impact of such great works. Another Covent Garden production that we will add to the long list of revivals we will avoid.

  23. maire eiblis responded on 17 January 2019 at 4:51pm Reply

    What a shame that the whole confluence of creative juices can be spoiled this way.
    The director' dreadful conception got in the way of everything good through the entire evening, from beginning to end.

    I regard the composer as great, and the music for QoS is great. The story is great (albeit the libretto not so much).
    The orchestra were excellent. The chorus were excellent. Individual singers very mixed (previous reviewers are pretty unanimous on who did well and who did not, and I agree).
    The sets etc were excellent (not sure about casino, but can't have everything).

    But I left the theatre irritated rather than uplifted or thoughtful, which is how I was (during even the excellent bits, and there were many excellent things to enjoy) pretty much throughout since the source of the irritation was evident throughout.

  24. John Dart responded on 17 January 2019 at 9:11pm Reply

    We saw the Opera last night. My wife found the double act of Tchaikovsky/Yeletsky distracting whereas I thought it added depth and enjoyed the new take on the Opera. Neither of us were confused. Sergey Polyakov did brilliantly. Some of the views expressed above are intemperate. As another respondent has stated there are (at least) two audiences at the ROH. One of these finds anything new/experimental too challenging and can't seem to find anything to enjoy and do not appreciate that a controversial production is not a bad production. I look forward to seeing it again in future (but probably with another member of the family). Thanks for some very exciting work and fine artistry.

    • David Glynn responded on 26 January 2019 at 1:18am

      Nothing wrong with new/experimental - if it works. This didn't. You can't tell me that amateurish conducting and piano-playing by Tchaikovsky throughout most of the evening was challenging. It was just infantile.

  25. Roland wilding responded on 18 January 2019 at 12:17am Reply

    The press reviews are more realistic of the audience perception than the comments here. Ok too much on the cholera issue etc but look at the plus side. Has anyone ever seen a mirror chorus combination which gave such an immersive feel before that deeply touched the soul , well let me know. Worth it for that alone. Oh yes and the principals sang beautifully and you get Tony in the pit any of those features make it a must go see. See it again on cinema I will

  26. Alexander Borodin responded on 18 January 2019 at 12:55pm Reply

    Hugely disappointing..
    A great opera killed by a pretentious and tasteless production.. Poor Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky must be turning in his grave.. Worst experience at Covent Garden in years..

  27. Michael Grensted responded on 18 January 2019 at 6:03pm Reply

    I have liked this opera ever since I saw Welsh National Opera's production (Svetlana Beriosova, no less, in the most magnificent walkdown as the Empress!) but my pension dictates that, whilst being adventurous, I should try to avoid expensive 'mistakes' (eg the recent ROH Lucia). I therefore took the precaution of buying this co-pruduction on dvd as originally performed in Amsterdam under Mariss Jansons. Thie proved to be a valuable saving as I agree with much of what earlier contributors have said. However, I will try to see the cinema screening in the hope that the London screen director's images might make me change my mind.

  28. Edmund responded on 19 January 2019 at 9:10am Reply

    Having read Mel Spencer's reply to my earlier post I would like to know why ROH no longer put cast changes on social media

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 22 January 2019 at 4:44pm

      Hi Edmund,

      Cast changes relating to Principal roles are now communicated to bookers directly via email (meaning those attending a performance are more likely to be aware of any change - not all bookers are social media users). In addition, cast changes are communicated via our front of house video screens.

      Best wishes,


  29. ysun responded on 19 January 2019 at 10:36am Reply

    I have to say that I don't like the production. The appearance of Tchaikovsky is completely meaningless. The role plays no more than a distraction in the drama.

  30. Graham Zimmermann responded on 19 January 2019 at 10:56am Reply

    I cannot understand how it is possible for the artistic directors of the ROH sitting around a table and listening for the first time to the plan of this new production of the Q of S and saying "Ooh, yes. What a marvellous idea! Let's go ahead with it - it'll be a certain hit."
    I sensed something was up right from the start when having to watch "Tchaikovsky" with his head buried in the seat of a wing armchair. All just unspeakably silly and puerile. A disgrace at over £200 a seat. I want my money back!

  31. Ruth Prior responded on 19 January 2019 at 9:24pm Reply

    Go to all ROH productions.Left at the interval .....ghastly.

    Last saw QoS with Domingo in 2003 so the ROH knows how to stage this properly.

  32. Hanah Chang responded on 19 January 2019 at 11:39pm Reply

    I would like to demand my right to be able to enjoy an opera as I paid to see it. Apparently the director Stefan Herheim was quoted by The Telegraph that "Opera is not about giving people a good time." It seems the director takes himself too seriously and wanted the production to be all about him. I suggest he take Tchaikovsky seriously in the future.

    I enjoyed the music though, conducted by Maestro Papano and I really appreciated the performance by Dame Felicity Palmer. Thank you for saving the evening for me.

  33. This is simply one of the worst productions I have ever seen at the ROH in over 20 years. It made no sense and was irritating to boot. And I don’t think I was on my own in that view considering the negative chatter on the way out, the number of empty seats after the interval and the very muted/tortured applause at the end. The only upside is the fantastic music and orchestra so if you do have tickets just close your eyes and pretend the debacle on stage is not happening.

  34. Tony Bolger responded on 20 January 2019 at 1:00pm Reply

    Utter rubbish! If the director is not happy with operas as the composer wrote them, let him write his own and stop ruining the work of others. This is yet another RO production that can't be revived! If it is, be prepared for 100s of empty seats!

  35. Tony Kinloch responded on 20 January 2019 at 5:11pm Reply

    A really wonderful night !!!!!!!! The singing and Tony and the band were great. The staging was very good (and just as the story demands and very dramatic). One might argue that ‘Tchaikovsky appeared’ a little too often in some scenes - but this is a minor criticism. Why did this 'revised' production of QofS work when the current Carmen (which is a disgrace to the RoH for wasting their (our?) money) is a total shambles? Mainly because the opera held true to the original story and ideas of the composer. But as one critic said, you really had to know the plot of the QofS (and about the life of Tchaikovsky), otherwise you would be very confused! A great evening. Do not miss it!

  36. Marius Kociejowski responded on 20 January 2019 at 7:17pm Reply

    This production is an absolute betrayal of the composer's intentions (as if those matter anymore). I am beginning to suspect that with this, the recent Carmen and several other abysmal productions in recent years it has become house policy to destroy any production that is true to the work itself. It is time for the ROH to consider the admittedly wild possibility that there are people in the audience who actually know what they are about whereas the majority of directors consider themselves superior to both composer and audience. It is time to get your act together.

  37. Patricia Baker responded on 21 January 2019 at 11:39pm Reply

    Why is there never any response from the Directoral team to the criticisms levelled above concerning this, and all the recent dire productions? It is time we heard from them. It is clear from the audience reaction to Idomeneo, Eugene Onegin, Lucia, Carmen and now The Queen of Spades (which I will hear in the cinema tomorrow) that these wacky productions are, by the majority of serious opera goers, loathed.

    Graham Zimmerman's comment (above) definitely demands a response.

    So Mel Spenser do your job: tackle those in charge and ask them to let us know why on earth these productions get past the drawing board and land up on the stage.

    • Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media)) responded on 22 January 2019 at 3:46pm

      Hi Patricia,

      Unfortunately the directors are unable to respond personally to every comment here but rest assured the criticism and positive comments are passed to the artistic companies. We welcome the feedback (good, or bad) but we are unable to offer ticket refunds based on whether or not audience members disliked elements of the production, as per our terms and conditions.

      Sorry to disappoint,

      Mel Spencer

  38. David Hall responded on 22 January 2019 at 6:58pm Reply

    I would have thought it the case that the production actually contravenes the trades description act as what you see has nothing to do with the opera that Tchaikovsky conceived! I joke but ………..

    I also fail to understand why the opera house is so reluctant to announce cast changes as they used to in the past. I often would like to see a substitute singing a role and make an effort to get a last minute ticket, this is not possible if I do not know that the advertised performer will not be singing.

  39. Robin Worth responded on 22 January 2019 at 9:54pm Reply

    I was at the first performance and you could tell that the audience did not like it : muted applause and Herheim roundly bood. I have read the comments above and would say that the positive ones come from those who paid £10 to see the rehearsal. I saw empty seats in the second part and won't be surprised when the ROH discounts the revival, as it did with the Katie Mitchell Lucia. Regietheater has a place somewhere, but when you ask £230 for a seat you had better be sure it is good Regietheater and not this kind of rubbish

  40. D.I. responded on 22 January 2019 at 11:09pm Reply

    Absolutely amazing and fresh interpretation of the 'Queen of spades', with unpredictable twists of narrative, smart jokes and modern tragedy of the genius on stage.

    Sorry that people didn't enjoy it, though to be fair the name should be different: something like 'Tchaikovksy and the Queen of spades'.

    Hope at least that everyone will now decide to go and see the production themselves, instead of reading reviews.

  41. J Bell responded on 23 January 2019 at 12:00am Reply

    I thought it was a wonderful production. I was very moved, particularly at the end when the final prayer turned out to be for the composer rather than the singer.
    Not sure why everyone is complaining; it's not exactly a new production. Perhaps people should do a bit of research before buying their tickets.

  42. Jacqueline Burrows responded on 23 January 2019 at 12:03am Reply

    It seems from previous reviews that we were lucky to see the production with the replacement tenor, Sergey Polyakov, in place of Aleksandrs Antonenko. But that still can't save this particular over-staged and over-imagined production. Sadly it really wasn't the best introduction to live opera for my teenage son, who appreciates Tchaikovsky and Mozart. The unwanted "third man" on stage with dreadful arm-waving and pseudo piano-playing was simply an annoying distraction; the plethora of horribly-made-up Tchaikovskys even worse. "Liza" was not believable. Felicity Palmer as the Countess could almost have saved the day, but wasn't allowed enough freedom to do so - Anna Goryachova was superb. Sorry: not one of ROH's best.

  43. Derek Wilson responded on 23 January 2019 at 8:40am Reply

    I saw QoS last night and left confused and disappointed. The Chorus and Orchestra were excellent but the direction was ....absurd, confusing, gratuitously sex obsessed and laughable.
    It descended into farce when the Countess was interred in the grand piano- yes, I am sure that seemed to happen. But most I felt sorry for the singer who signed up for the Prince Yeletsky role and was on stage all of the rest of the performance as the ghost of Tchaikovsky as well, pretending to play the piano, conducting wildly most of the time and scribbling with a quill pen the rest of the time. Worse still he wore the same suit throughout, confusing me no end about which role he was in at the time. Can I suggest he wears a different hat for each role - it would not make the production any more ludicrous than it is.
    Are there any more mad Holten commissions in the pipeline?

  44. Sarah Dixon responded on 23 January 2019 at 10:06am Reply

    I saw the production streamed live last night into our local cinema. By the end of it I wanted to get up on stage and push 'Tchaikovsky' off it. I found him irritating in the extreme and very distracting so could not enjoy the music as I know I could have. This is obviously not a reflection on Stoyanov himself but on the direction.

  45. Angela Pearson responded on 23 January 2019 at 11:21am Reply

    Whilst delighted as a long standing supporter of ROH that many people actually enjoyed this production, I can only express my relief at having seen the 2001 production and subsequent revival, that I have seen Q of S probably as Tchaikovsky envisaged it.
    In spite of the wonderful orchestral playing and glorious singing from the chorus, I left at the interval, Confused, disappointed and angry.
    Onegin, Carmen and now Queen of Spades are all be operas I will not book for again at the Opera House, until there are new productions.
    It is all very well for Mr Herheim to feel that opera "is not about giving people a good time", those of us struggling to be able to afford a seat perhaps feel rather differently, and I suspect will vote with our cheque books!

  46. Patrick responded on 23 January 2019 at 2:19pm Reply

    Artists create works of Art for our consumption, pleasure, enlightenment or whatever you choose... period. Why this predilection for opera directors to attempt to psychoanalyse the Artist in order to explain their creations to us mere mortals presumably for our benefit. ( very prevalent in Wagner productions.) I ALREADY KNEW the Artist in this case was homosexual and tortured. I felt hammered over the head with this ONE (great?....really?) IDEA for the on-going duration of the opera and crawled out of the cinema (A.K.A Freud's clinic in Vienna) with the resolution that i really must go to see the 'Queen of Spades' which i am reliably informed by general consensus is a genuine Work of Art and if so inclined to ponder its creative conception. otherwise music, chorus and orchestra were glorious.(when i closed my eyes)

  47. C Langford responded on 23 January 2019 at 4:18pm Reply

    Brilliant music and singing ruined by pretentious self indulgent and confusing direction. I wanted to see a classic opera not a flawed biopic.

  48. James Gordon responded on 23 January 2019 at 6:39pm Reply

    I have had mixed reactions to Herheim’s work in the past. His Cenerentola (in Edinburgh last summer, with its chorus of identikit Rossinis literally feeding off their own earlier successes) was clever, insightful and funny. His ROH Sicilian Vespers, while detracting from Verdi with its imposed, irrelevant narrative, is at least coherent. The present offering is not coherent, nor is it a ‘production of The Queen of Spades”. Rather, it is a tendentious ‘Making Of’ docu-drama, which arguably would work better to a soundtrack of the Sixth Symphony.

    In principle, I sympathise with Herheim’s lofty ideals, but these can only be realised when a work of art elicits emotional as well as intellectual engagement. Wagner, whose ideals were even loftier, never forgot it. The fundamental problem with this ‘QoS’ is twofold: the imposed central character is neither likeable nor interesting, merely irritating, and his constant presence prevents everyone else creating credible characters or relationships (except Felicity Palmer, who, over the years, has seen too much nonsense like this to let it distract her).

    When we were shown flunkies trying to get the audience in the stalls to stand for the pseudo-empress's arrival, I was hoping for active civil disobedience. Oh for a hastily convened court of honour!

    Judging the evening irretrievable, I left the cinema at the interval. From the audible booing on the relay, I imagine Bow Street was quite busy around the same time. It would have made a satisfactory radio broadcast.

    I disagree with Pappano’s claim that this is Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. (In both senses of the term, that is Eugene Onegin.) QoS’s dramatic structure is messy enough, without adding extra layers to it. Nonetheless, when allowed, it can be effective music-theatre. Tchaikovsky, albeit at great personal cost, sometimes managed to transcend his own circumstances. He created whole galleries of characters, most of whom are nothing like himself. This production generates clones.

    Not just a turkey, but a turkey in late January – well past its sell-by date.

    I tried to submit this last night and got an error message.

  49. Timothy Smith responded on 23 January 2019 at 8:35pm Reply

    We saw this in the cinema in Cheltenham. We thought the orchestra glorious and also much of the singing. However, we thought the production ghastly, with all that Tchaikovsky-on-stage nonsense. Please get your stage directors under control!

  50. Brian George responded on 24 January 2019 at 12:25pm Reply

    Yet another example of the opera by the director with incidental music by the composer. My old English master would write tosh or balderdash on poor work - in some instances you got both! This, I suspect would have got both!!

    Pity about the substitute - did his best and enabled the performance to happen. But generally the singing (apart from the chorus) was not great - if anyone wants to hear the opera sung properly - U-tube Queen of Spades - Vienna 1992. Chalk and cheese!!

    And how, at the entrance of the Empress were folk in the Amphi to know what was going on in the Stalls? By the sound of it we missed not a lot! Another instance of the director being too idle to go the Gods? Put a signpost up!

    Very disappointing

  51. Peter Crush responded on 24 January 2019 at 5:33pm Reply

    Stefan Herheim has taken the opera, interpreting it as autobiographical, and inserted Tchaikovsky into the opera itself and not just one Tchaikovsky but sometimes whole flocks of them. It sounds tremendous, you see the composer and around him the opera comes to life. As the composer appears on stage and interacts with the singers the idea is that you gain insights into the autobiographical impetus behind the work. In reality the thing is a horrible and sometimes ludicrous flop. You can imagine the principal singers talking about the production in the pub and complaining about how they’re being always upstaged by that wretched Tchaikovsky who if he isn’t pretending to play the piano in a completely ludicrous way that looks as if he’s got his hands glued to the keyboard he is sitting there stabbing himself with a quill pen or surrounding you in multiples clutching bottom lit plastic glasses. When three Saint Sebastian’s (more Tchiakovskys) with quill pens stuck into their bodies and oozing black blood from their wounds came in through the French windows it was hard not to laugh out loud. On the other hand there are some marvellous scenes for instance when the Countess is surrounded by a flock of black costumed acolytes waving ostrich feather fans, but then you have the scene where Gherman comes on dressed as Catherine the Great with a fan in front of his face which he reveals to a surprised Tchaikovsky. Only Tchaikovsky was surprised - everyone in the audience saw thus trite and silly revelation coming a mile off.

    I enjoyed the evening because of the music but really this Herheim needs to be fired.

  52. Alan Mackenzie responded on 25 January 2019 at 10:02am Reply

    We saw this production of QoS on 16 Jan and left very disappointed at the interval. I can only echo many of the critical comments already posted. The fabulous sets and excellent orchestra playing could not compensate for the pretentious and fatuous concept of the director. QoS is not about Tchaikovsky! I am all for reinterpretations of operas but these must be consistent with the composer’s artistic concept and intent. This was neither. Poor old Stoyanov was made to wave his arms around like a lunatic as Tchaikovsky and then sing his poignant aria to Lisa as Yeletzky. I shall avoid any Herheim productions in the future and fervently hope that no taxpayer subsidy was wasted on this adolescent offering.

  53. Steve Freeman responded on 28 January 2019 at 9:59pm Reply

    Antonenko on terrible form because of a cold should not have sung. With that, and the clunker production, we didn't make it back after the intermission for the first time *in decades*. We expect better from the ROH.

  54. Gus Gazzard responded on 28 January 2019 at 11:28pm Reply

    The most miserably prententious pile of nonsense to have ruined a great opera that ROH has staged for many years.
    The worst night at Covent Garden for two decades.
    I’m sickened to have seen public money wasted to wantonly. How could Pappano tolerate this?

  55. Tamara Oppenheimer responded on 29 January 2019 at 12:08am Reply

    Risible. One of the worst productions in the last 10 years. Reminded me of that excrutiating Aida influenced by Japanese Noh theatre which you could only survive by closing your eyes. As others have said the tortured Tchaikovsky on stage concept was pretentious, distracting and utterly irrelevant. But to make matters worse it was also incredibly badly and tediously executed. How many times do we have to watch the singers rip the sheet music out of Tchaikovsky’s hands, see the composer fall to the floor or put up with yet more simulated piano playing? (Quite a few apparently.) Please, ROH stop this pretentious Holten-influenced nonsense and use directors who are interested in the opera not themselves. I love many many of your productions but this one was a shocking waste of money - both mine and the public’s.

  56. Aidan Cullen responded on 29 January 2019 at 12:12am Reply

    Saw this tonight and loved the production. A 19th melodrama came alive with psychological depth. Palmer and Westbroek wonderful and music, partichlarily in the 2nd half just great. So pleased I ignored the reviews and went along.

  57. Scarlett Spiller responded on 29 January 2019 at 10:41am Reply

    Outstanding! For me, this production was a genius representation of Tchaikovsky himself. The monotone colours bought to life his mood around that time.

    The substitute made no difference whatsoever in my opinion. A great cast, fabulous direction and of course, a sensational score! It's always an honour to watch Pappano conduct.


  58. Svetlana responded on 29 January 2019 at 11:15am Reply

    For me it was the worst opera performance ever, we could not make ourselves to watch the second half and walked out. The production killed the plot, the energy of the story, the logic of the play. But Antonenko killed the musical side of the opera. I don't understand, how this level of performance could be tolerated in the establishment of such level. Either he was unwell and should not be singing at all, or he was not the right singer for the role. In both cases it should not be happening like this. People who paid hundreds of pounds for their seats should get their money back.

  59. Robin Bruce responded on 29 January 2019 at 5:54pm Reply

    One reviewer made a salient point - do your homework before booking. I too was confused by some of the Tchaikovsky elements, but the orchestra and the singing - fabulous chorus - were so superb that I went again on Friday. Complexity often equals depth.

  60. Richard L responded on 31 January 2019 at 4:51pm Reply

    A production that is even more distracting than their Eugene Onegin - the Royal Opera now has two Tchaikovsky duds on its hands. Please, please don't ask Antonenko back - perhaps the most painful singing I have ever heard in 46 years of live opera.

  61. Nicolas responded on 1 February 2019 at 11:37am Reply

    I will go to see an opera for the first time tonight and reading the comment, it might be the last time.
    I don't really know what to expect but paid a lot of money for this and feel a bit cheated. Hope it's not as bad as described in the comments.

  62. Anna Sarishvili- Gorevic responded on 1 February 2019 at 6:10pm Reply

    I have to agree with all the negative comments above. I thought the production was atrocious, did not do justice to the composer, the performers or even the music, as we could not concentrate on it due to what was happening on stage. It has been talked at length here about the irrelevance of the character of Tchaikovsky on stage and the very poor execution of the idea too. Ever more so, it is disrespectful towards the Great composer and the audience as he was shoved, pushed, rolled around on the floor by fellow characters, especially Gherman, for whom it seemed to be the only task of the evening as the singing was not coming easily to Antonenko. The only explanation I have for ROH hiring him is that he was better at the point of hiring.
    I do not understand the trend among opera directors to shock and even disgust the audience to a point of no return. ROH, why allow this? Are they such rare and egocentric breed you don't have a way to stay in control? Why does this keep happening in various productions? What kind of audience are you trying to attract? If not to please and enlighten, what was the beautiful music created to do? Why defy the composers' vision for it so dramatically? If new audiences are going to come for the outrageous productions and not the music, the wonderful singing, and in addition they won't even understand the plot (as it would be a real task for a newcomer under the circumstances), then why shouldn't they go to the theatre instead and pay far less money?
    Your current audience, it seems, is mostly in agreement here, the reviews and the muted applause say it all.
    Finally, I wanted to say that the great performances by Dame Felicity Palmer, Antonio Pappano and orchestra and chorus were all soured and were unable to save the night. I happened to have paid an amount usually beyond my reach just to treat a family member, who is a retired opera singer, on their birthday! Very disappointed indeed. After the wonderful Lucia at ENO I will have to think twice next time of where to go, before "investing" in a night at the opera.

  63. Ian Foster responded on 2 February 2019 at 12:55am Reply

    Tedious, tiresome and trite. One idea flogged to death. I should have left at the interval. Perhaps it’s time for a prior rating system: this production contains a massive dose of PG Pretenious Garbage. This was almost as absurd as the recent ludicrous and self indulgent productions of Norma and Lucia. Such a disappointment. Lets hope these productions are on the wane.

  64. Roger C Woodward responded on 2 February 2019 at 1:01pm Reply

    I sat with an enthusiastic Russian opera-lover who was bowled over with this production. I had seen it many years ago and got to know the music at the time but it had slipped into my distant memory and so I was extremely pleased to have a chance to revive it - and what a terrific piece. I have no specialised knowledge of the opera or of music generally though I go regularly to operas of many different types. They are stage works so for me the staging and direction is important to me in addition to the music, the story and the concept of the production. Why go to the theatre if you are going to literally and/or metaphorically shut your eyes (and your mind?) to what you are presented with? Most audience members I suspect are not as familiar with specific operas as many of your reviewers here who concentrate on the music, the libretto or the psychology of the piece. Comments like "the worst opera performance ever", "risible" and others are completely ridiculous. On the other hand, while I am quite happy for directors to look for new angles to present a piece all too often ones enjoyment in an opera house is completely spoilt by the "pretentious and fatuous concept of the director". They should remember that what might be a familiar "old chestnut" to some will be a new and fresh piece to many others. I recently saw a truly appalling touring production of Carmen and was embarrassed to criticise it when others thought it a wonderful event. This production looked terrific, the costumes and set and the chorus (specifically) were excellent and the swinging chandelier/censer a wonderful idea. I was sorry that the direction for the great role of the Countess, who sang beautifully, was underplayed almost to insignificance (no fault of the wonderful Dame Felicity Palmer) Interesting too to have the composer imagined on the stage and, for me, the business was not over the top. I was sorry that Pappano was not in the pit and two main singers were indisposed but the overall effect was spectacular and the music was very well presented. I thought that the whole "homosexuality" issue was not handled well and entirely unnecessary - certainly to an uneducated person like myself but I am encouraged in my opinion by the enthusiasm of my Russian friend in the next seat.

  65. Esme responded on 2 February 2019 at 2:18pm Reply

    Having lived in London for a year now, I have been very disappointed in the opera offerings at ROH. At last night's performance of The Queen of Spades, I made the previously unthinkable decision to leave at the interval. I could not subject myself any further to this pseudo-intellectual insult to the audience. There was wonderful singing--I especially enjoyed Polina's aria, 'Tri karti', 'Ya vas lyublyu' and the intermezzo--but the singers, Pappano and the wonderful orchestra couldn't salvage this performance. It was a self-indulgent production by a director who is disrespectful of the source material and shows contempt to the audience. Some specific examples: opening an opera with a Powerpoint presentation about Tchaikovsky's life? I am here for the music, not a history lesson. That angel of death in the opening scene? Then putting Tchaikovsky onstage and having the principals sing to him instead of each other? And that incessant fake conducting, writing and piano playing--inserting the composer into his own opera was a heavy-handed, distracting nuisance. It should not carry the title of 'Pikovaya Dama'--it should be called 'Herheim Presents Pikovaya Dama', sitting at a remove from both Tchaikovsky and Pushkin. I felt embarrassed for he production staff who were actually paid to come up with such sophomoric attempts at profundity and even more for the performers who had to execute that vision.

    Whoever is in charge of accepting new productions at the ROH, I am addressing you directly--I know that engaging with a younger audience and expanding your reach beyond a certain age/socioeconomic demographic is a central concern for all opera companies. So I am telling you right now, as a 25 year old opera-goer and possible source of future income, that this is not the way to do it. Young people might be more open-minded to experimenting with new adaptations, but dangling flashy effects in our faces and forcing stylized gimmicks does not make a production engaging or intelligent. Quite the opposite--this production reeked of desperation. It was not Tchaikovsky's opera; it was the soulless and dramatically sterile byproduct of a director's ego. Please take this feedback and the comments of my fellow opera-lovers into consideration. Based on what I have seen at ROH, I must say that these questionable production concepts that do not allow the music to take the central role in the opera are jeopardizing the company's integrity. My estimation of the ROH has certainly fallen, especially after what I witnessed onstage yesterday evening. In future, I will have to give serious pause to whether I visit the ROH, and will choose other houses first if productions like Herheim's Pikovaya Dama are representative of ROH standards.

  66. Garth responded on 2 February 2019 at 4:46pm Reply

    The gesture of Leaving and Remaining has clearly spread to opera audiences.
    How good to read so many different reactions - how many other art forms arouse such passions nowadays (we are long past Ruskin and Whistler). Last night’s audience clearly loved if the plaudits at the curtain were any measure. I enjoyed it, even though some of the wackiness was a somewhat debased version of so many brave ENO productions in the Powerhouse years (no chairs hanging from the wall here, though). The first half blurred the story line, hard enough to discern amid the interpolations by the composer himself; the second part worked better. The music-making was decidedly mixed but the delicacy and polish of the countess threw quite a shade over others on stage.

  67. Donal responded on 2 February 2019 at 10:35pm Reply

    Superb and glorious! The music was wonderful and so was the controversial Herheim production. Having Tchaikovsky(s) on stage almost all the time, and relating the opera action to his compositional process made it a fascinating evening. The Mozartian influences and references added immeasurably

  68. Mila responded on 5 February 2019 at 6:56pm Reply

    I was disgusted by Stefan Herheim's interpretation of this great work of Tchaikovsky. Antonenko was definitely not fit for this role. In general it was the worst production I've ever seen in Covent Garden in 20 years. Not something you would expect from the ROH.

  69. Maire Eiblis responded on 5 February 2019 at 9:43pm Reply

    "The present offering is not ........a ‘production of The Queen of Spades”. Rather, it ..........arguably would work better to a soundtrack of the Sixth Symphony." (an extract of James Gordon remark above) is absolutely spot on.

    And the idea that someone manically waving his arms and (badly) mimicking playing a piano - all evening, centre stage - somehow throws light on the creation / composition process, or somehow throws light on a troubled repressed gay guy trying to cope in 19th Century Russia ; er, please.

  70. Anna Gorevic responded on 8 February 2019 at 10:36pm Reply

    I have to agree with all the negative comments above. I thought the production was atrocious, did not do justice to the composer, the performers or even the music, as we could not concentrate on it due to what was happening on stage. It has been talked at length here about the irrelevance of the character of Tchaikovsky on stage and the very poor execution of the idea too. Ever more so, it is disrespectful towards the Great composer and the audience as he was shoved, pushed, rolled around on the floor by fellow characters, especially Gherman, for whom it seemed to be the only task of the evening as the singing was not coming easily to Antonenko. The only explanation I have for ROH hiring him is that he was better at the point of hiring.
    I do not understand the trend among opera directors to shock and even disgust the audience to a point of no return. ROH, why allow this? Are they such rare and egocentric breed you don't have a way to stay in control? Why does this keep happening in various productions? What kind of audience are you trying to attract? If not to please and enlighten, what was the beautiful music created to do? Why defy the composers' vision for it so dramatically? If new audiences are going to come for the outrageous productions and not the music, the wonderful singing, and in addition they won't even understand the plot (as it would be a real task for a newcomer under the circumstances), then why shouldn't they go to the theatre instead and pay far less money?
    Your current audience, it seems, is mostly in agreement here, the reviews and the muted applause say it all.
    Finally, I wanted to say that the great performances by Dame Felicity Palmer, Antonio Pappano and orchestra and chorus were all soured and were unable to save the night. I happened to have paid an amount usually beyond my reach just to treat a family member, who is a retired opera singer, on their birthday! Very disappointed indeed. After the wonderful Lucia at ENO I will have to think twice next time of where to go, before "investing" in a night at the opera.

  71. Sarah responded on 13 February 2019 at 11:15am Reply

    Truly the worst opera I have ever seen. I made the previously unthinkable decision to leave at the interval. Russian operas are not performed nearly as often as they should be in the west, and I was so excited to see one of my favorites at the ROH. However, this production was a farce--the director's contempt for the audience and egocentricity were on full display. I truly could not believe what I was witnessing and left to avoid further insult.

    Herheim made it not about Tchaikovsky's music, libretto or any hint of Pushkin's original text. Rather, it was apparent that this production was a Trojan horse--Herheim wanted to make a play about himself, so he inserted himself into the opera in the form of Tchaikovsky the composer. Tchaikovsky-cum-Herheim proceeds to be the center of attention the entire time. Characters onstage are actually singing to this man who is not even supposed to be in the plot. It was sophomoric and an embarrassment to all involved. I felt sympathy for the performers, orchestra and conductor--even their music could not save this production from this truly bad director. I don't know how the ROH chooses directors, but in a just world, Herheim would never work again based on this production.

    I am not averse to new adaptations and artistic visions. However, 'new and challenging' does not automatically mean that something is good. A heavy-handed directorial 'vision' does not profundity make. And finally, controversy does not mean that the next production will fill seats. Rather, the ROH has fallen in my estimation. I now view ROH tickets as a gamble rather than an assurance of excellence. As a result, I have passed on Katya Kabanova tickets in favor of an upcoming ENO production.

    To the ROH powers that be--I would like to offer some advice. As you know, if opera is to survive in the 21st century, you need to expand your audience and make sure there is a new generation of opera-goers in the making. That means making sure your audience does not leave your house feeling embittered and swindled. As a 25 year old opera lover, I am right in that crucial demographic. I can tell you that young people might be more forgiving of new productions, but we are not stupid. This Herheim production was an absolute insult to the audience's intelligence. Because the ROH has shown that it cannot consistently offer, at minimum, decent productions, I no longer feel that purchasing an ROH ticket is a guarantee of excellence. I've seen regional houses with much lower budgets and much higher standards for productions. ROH should really take notes from the consistently solid productions that come out of better houses--the Met, for example. Continuing to place your reputation at the mercy of directors' egos will diminish your audience's good faith and, ultimately, business. I truly hope the ROH takes these comments as constructive criticism from someone who loves opera and would like to be able to give the ROH my business in the future, but only if there is a real overhaul in its standards.

  72. Colin Walters responded on 16 February 2019 at 4:33am Reply

    Pitiful and pointless, a travesty of a great work. The operatic equivalent of smearing excrement on the Mona Lisa. One of the worst productions this 70 year old has seen over several decades. I left at the interval. If this is the best Covent Garden can do, the sooner it is turned back into a dance hall the better. In addition to the ghastliness of the production, the substitute tenor couldn’t sing and Pappano’s orchestra seemed to be on valium.

  73. Katalin Mirchell responded on 17 February 2019 at 7:01pm Reply

    Something nobody else mentioned I think, and that is why can’t ROH afford a better wig making company. Management please check out the MET principals’ and even chorus members wigs; none of those hideous wrinkled pink things covering half their foreheads. Now that you are in the HD business (and I am so very grateful for it) you need to do better, wigs are as important as costumes.
    And sorry but I also detested Herrnheims’ crude caricature of this amazing composer at further detriment of his magnificent Pique Dame. Cast and the ever phenomenal Tony made it a gorgeous oral experience, and yes, one could always listen with eyes closed (though would I want to do that if I flew to London and spent hundreds of pounds for the experience?)

  74. De Raet laurence responded on 18 February 2019 at 12:37am Reply

    Some original good ideas, symbolization around tchaikowski s presence on stage, the glasses, cards, bird..even if sometimes seems ridiculous in excess. Comtess interprétation fine. The stage maybe a little too static poor effects in regards to other stages.

  75. Svetlana Chernova responded on 20 February 2019 at 12:47pm Reply

    Experimental to the point of bad taste - left me absolutely baffled. Why stress so much on homosexuality rather than love? An insult to the composer, let alone Pushkin. Beautifully sung aria of Prince Yeletzky went to nil drowned not in the Neva but in the constant gesticulation with the quill - felt sorry for Vladimir Stoyanov who trusted Herheim. Magnificent Felicity Palmer but very disappointing altogether.

  76. Hilary Manser responded on 3 March 2019 at 7:49pm Reply

    I could put a reasoned analysis but so many other opera goers have done this before me and probably much better. So I'll content myself with one word; dreadful

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