Preview: The Queen Of Spades, Royal Opera House, London

A passionate journey from light into dark
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The Independent Culture

With Semyon Bychkov in the pit, Larissa Diadkova as the Countess, Vassily Gerello as Tomsky and Vladimir Galouzine as the doom-laden Herman, this revival of Tchaikovsky's dark masterpiece will be Russian through and through. Mlada Khudoley, the Muscovite soprano new in the role of Lisa, will feel perfectly at home.

Yet, when asked what she regards as the challenge of the role, her reply is unexpected: "That it's in my own language." How so? "I feel more shy singing in Russian than in foreign languages. I can let myself go in Italian or German - I can separate myself from my character. But Russian is too real for me; I feel emotionally exposed, as though I am breaking taboos. Maybe I am too similar to Lisa."

She points out that she is following Tchaikovsky's line rather than that of the Pushkin novella on which the opera is based. "When you read the novella, you're keenly aware of Pushkin's ironic social vision, but Tchaikovsky removed that; his view is more romantic. Pushkin's Lisa has dreams and fantasies, but she has a practical approach to life. Tchaikovsky characterises her as fragile, passionate and ultimately ready to die for her passion."

Francesca Zambello's wintry production, which divided the critics on its first outing, underlines that: she shows her young heroine moving from light to darkness in the course of the evening. "Some productions give her a feminist slant," says Khudoley contemptuously. "But that is in direct contradiction to the music; it makes her suicide quite simply improbable."

Khudoley may have spent eight years in the celebrated Mariinsky stable, but she is still at the start of her career. She trained as a chorus-conductor - hence her incisively analytical approach - and developed late as a singer. Valery Gergiev spotted her and made her Salome in his production of Strauss's opera, and Placido Domingo took an instant shine to her voice, partnering her in Wagner. Her Lisa should be quite something.

11 November to 6 December (020-7304 4000; www.royalopera.org)

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