Bavarian State Opera

A Part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series

Above: Production photo from The Queen of Spades – Credit: Bayerische Staatsoper / W.Hoesl

For cast lists and playlists, please visit the Opera Series Overview.

There are few operas, which from the very first bar endure such intense pressure, few in which the temperature swings from ice-cold calculation to overheating in mere seconds. And scarcely any in which private entanglement and personal tragedy are so interwoven with political attitudes in historical accuracy. Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca has electrified audiences since its world premiere. The shock wave emitted by the opera was so strong that decades later many reactions still tend to point to the bewilderment and overpowering of those affected rather than the qualities of the piece itself. We will hear the Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Aziz Shokhakimov.

The story surrounds a love triangle involving the singer Floria Tosca, played by Eleonora Buratto, the painter Mario Cavaradossi portrayed by Charles Castronovo and the chief of police Baron Scarpia played by Ludovic Tézier. The artistic world of the protagonist couple, Tosca and Cavaradossi, is no coloristic ingredient here, but rather defines the profile of its characters – it justifies Tosca’s eccentricity, just as it does Cavaradossi’s liberality and also explains the singer’s pronounced self-confidence: The heroine of the stage becomes a heroine in real life.

We hear another performance from this orchestra with a performance of The Queen of Spades on stage at The National Theater of Munich under the direction of Aziz Shokhakimov. This opera navigates the dark and obsessive tale of Hermann, performed by Brandon Jovanovich in a story of desire, gambling, and the supernatural. Asmik Grigorian and Roman Burdenko join in the performance of what some say is Tchaikovsky’s greatest work.

Discover the secret, crack the code, get the key: What drives us to submit to the unknown, to forget what we originally felt and who we are? With The Queen of Spades, Alexander Pushkin presented a Russian variant of the Gothic novel in 1834. In it, his protagonist Hermann stares unblinkingly at the window, behind which Liza sits. While he tries to elicit the secret of the three cards from the Countess, whose ward Liza is, Liza mistakes his obsession for love. Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky stages the couple’s downfall all the more drastically in his opera, when, as the plot begins he has the possibility of a joyful life appear and allows the two to take the self-chosen path of estrangement and self-destruction into madness and death.


Queen of Spades Synopsis


Meeting Lisa has turned the life of officer Hermann (German) upside down. He would like nothing more than to marry her but as a social outsider he is almost sure to have no chance to gain her heart. What is more, she is wealthy, but he is not. His friends Tomski, Tschekalinski and Surin are even more surprised than usual about his behavior: Hermann has been spending a lot of time in the casino lately. As if magically attracted, he circles the gaming tables without placing any bets himself.

Prince Yeletsky introduces Tomski and his friends to his bride. With horror, Hermann realizes that the bride is none other than Lisa, the woman he adores. Tomski tries to comfort him. However, Lisa also seems to have feelings for Hermann. Her grandmother, the Countess, senses disaster when she comes face to face with the mysterious outsider, and Hermann is also overcome by a shiver. Tomski tells the friends how the Countess got her nickname “Queen of Spades”: A long time ago, the mysterious Count Saint-Germain told her which three cards meant a sure win. She has already revealed the secret twice but if she tells a third party, as a ghost once prophesied, she will die by the hands of that person. Hermann decides to reveal the secret to the countess, seeing it as the solution to all his problems.

Lisa and her friends meet up late at night. When Polina is asked to sing a song, she conjures up the image of a dead woman. A dance is supposed to liven up the situation. The governess puts an end to the hilarity and sends the young women home. Lisa is left alone. Hermann emerges from the darkness and declares his passionate love for Lisa. Lisa hesitantly confesses that she loves him too. Both are aware of the danger this puts them in, as Lisa is the prince’s fiancée.


During a masked ball, which the Tsarina honors with her presence, Lisa slips Hermann the key to the Countess’s bedroom. From there, a secret door leads to her room, where she wants to meet Hermann. Hermann hides in the Countess’s bedroom when she returns from the ball. When she has sent her entourage away and is lost in her memories of times gone by, Hermann emerges from the darkness and demands from her to reveal the secret of the three cards. The Countess refuses to answer and is so much frightened when Hermann threatens her with his gun that she dies. Lisa enters the room. Worse than the countess’s death is for Lisa to realize that gambling is clearly more important for Hermann than the love affair with her.


Hermann is haunted by delusions. He keeps picturing the Countess’s funeral and imagines that the Countess is blinking at him from her coffin. Then suddenly a ghost appears in the form of the dead Countess. She tells him which three cards guarantee him to win the game: Three, Seven, Ace.

Lisa has given Hermann an ultimatum. He is to avow himself to her. When he finally turns up for the all-important encounter, he swears his love to Lisa. Now that he is in possession of the secret of the cards, his main desire is to rush to the casino immediately, thereby revealing how extensively he is addicted to gambling. He also indirectly admits having killed the Countess. Lisa realizes that Hermann is lost and that her fate is irrevocably tied to his.

When he arrives at the casino, Hermann immediately sits down at the gaming table. Twice, he wins large sums. The third time, his opponent is Prince Yeletsky who has since broken up with Lisa. Confident of victory, Hermann turns over his card. However, instead of the ace he faces the Queen of Spades. Once again, Hermann firmly believes to see the Countess in front of him. Thinking to have now gone completely mad, he puts an end to his life. As he dies, Lisa appears to him as an angel of reconciliation.

Summary courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper.


About the Bavarian State Orchestra:

In 2023, the Bayerische Staatsorchester celebrated its five hundredth anniversary, making it one of the oldest and most traditional ensembles in the world. The orchestra, which is based at the Bayerische Staatsoper, has 144 members and performs both in the orchestra pit and on the concert podium.

About the Host:
Lisa Flynn has been a program host and producer for WFMT since 1991. She presents The New Releases and has hosted many programs for the WFMT Radio Network, including War Letters (which won the 2002 Peter Lisagor Award) and a series of live broadcasts from Salzburg to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006. As WFMT’s midday weekday announcer, Lisa hosts live studio performances and interviews guest artists including Renée Fleming, John Adams, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, John Eliot Gardiner, and many others. Before coming to Chicago, Lisa presented classical music at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, and at WMFE and WUCF in Orlando, Florida. She holds a music degree from the University of Central Florida.


This program is a part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series, a series designed to complement the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts to fill out the year with great Opera content. The series begins in June and lasts until December.


Category: Operas
Duration: 2-hour / Varies by Opera
Frequency: Flexible
Availability: 08/31/2024 - 09/13/2024

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