The Queen of Spades, Coliseum, London, review: David Alden's brilliant new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece

The soloists are outstanding

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The Independent Culture

Another hit from ENO: David Alden’s production of Tchaikovsky’s enigmatic masterpiece has a sure touch and extreme boldness of conception.

As incarnated by tenor Peter Hoare, this Hermann feels recognisably contemporary: a driven figure whose human relationships are progressively destroyed by his gambling addiction; this Lisa, as played by Giselle Allen, cuts her throat with a broken bottle rather than jumping into a St Petersburg canal. And the plot’s rococo pastiche sections – which most directors turn into an excuse for an excursion into period prettiness – here become grotesque hallucinations woven seamlessly into the encroachment of the protagonist’s madness.

Wolfgang Goebbel’s painterly lighting reflects every flickering mood in the score, with Edward Gardner extracting a kaleidoscope of haunting effects from his players and chorus. Gideon Davey’s mostly-Sixties designs offer visual restraint punctuated by cartoon craziness; the latter sometimes goes crudely OTT, but the leitmotifs of a ziggurat of chairs and a shower of cards work perfectly.  

The soloists are outstanding. Felicity Palmer’s Countess is creepily awe-inspiring, and Nicholas Pallesen, as the rich suitor Yeletsky, persuades by the sheer beauty of his tone. Catherine Young makes a commanding confidante to Allen’s Lisa, whose aria to the night has Wagnerian power. Peter Hoare’s sound at the start is held-in, but it acquires heart-rending plangency as he is drawn, Wozzeck-like, to his doom.