Listen to The Queen of Spades

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Tchaikovsky's broodingly romantic thriller is a tour de force for a great tenor, sung here by Brandon Jovanovich in Lyric's 2020 production. He plays the terrifyingly obsessed Gherman, an unhappy soldier desperate to know a secret hidden by a mysterious old countess—the mystery of winning at cards. The tension turns truly unnerving as Gherman's obsession begins to overwhelm him. It leads to devastation both for him and for the countess's granddaughter, Lisa, whom Gherman loves. Tchaikovsky's music is the height of Russian romanticism in its melancholy soulfulness, its white-hot passion, and the sweeping grandeur of its orchestra—a masterpiece from the genius who gave the world Eugene Onegin and Swan Lake.

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Act one

Scene one

In a park in St. Petersburg, governesses and nurses mind their charges. A troop of children playing soldiers drills. Two army officers, Chekalinsky and Sourin, discuss the previous evening's gambling, during which their friend Gherman placed no bets. Count Tomsky notices that Gherman is distracted. Confessing that he's in love, Gherman admits that he doesn't know her name, only that his passion for her is hopeless. The adults in the park enjoy the first day of spring. Prince Yeletsky is congratulated on his recent engagement, while Gherman thinks only of his own torment. When the Countess appears, Yeletsky identifies her granddaughter Lisa as his fiancée. She is also the young woman with whom Gherman is obsessed, and he is left in despair.

Tomsky reveals that the Countess had been a beauty in Paris, where one evening she lost everything at cards. In return for a tryst, Count St.-Germain offered her the secret of the three winning cards. The next day she played them and was repeatedly successful. She told two people the secret, but an apparition later came to her, warning that the third person seeking the secret would prove her undoing. Gherman – who longs to know the secret – vows to take Lisa from the prince, or die.

Scene two

In Lisa's room, she and Pauline sing for their friends, which leads into a lively folk dance, prompting Lisa's governess to scold the girls for making such a commotion. Left alone, Lisa is disturbed about having feelings for Gherman rather than Yeletsky. When Gherman appears, he tells her he intends to die, since she can never be his. He hides when the Countess admonishes Lisa for not going to bed. Once the old woman has gone, Gherman insists that Lisa must decide whether he will live or die.

Act two

Scene one

At a party, Chekalinsky and Sourin encourage Gherman in his obsession with the secret of the three cards. Lisa is cold to Yeletsky, instead arranging to meet with Gherman. After some entertainment, Lisa gives him a key to a secret door to her grandmother’s house and explains how to reach her own room. The party excitement builds in anticipation of the arrival of Empress Catherine the Great.

Scene two

Gherman enters the Countess's bedroom through a secret door, hiding as her servants enter to prepare for her return from the party. The Countess nostalgically recalls the elegance of Parisian nobility and an aria she once sang for the French king. Her staff leaves and she falls asleep, but soon awakens to find Gherman before her, insisting she tell him about the three cards. She dies of fright. Lisa rushes in, horrified, as Gherman curses not having learned the winning secret.

Act three

Scene one

In his barracks room, unable to sleep, Gherman reads a letter from Lisa asking him to meet her by the river. The Countess appears to Gherman as a ghost, against her will, commanding him to marry Lisa in return for the mystery sequence of the winning cards: three, seven, ace.

Scene two

Lisa desperately anticipates seeing Gherman. He responds passionately to her at first, but she's terrified by his obsession with winning at cards as he abandons her to go to the gambling house. Believing that he murdered the Countess, Lisa takes her own life.

Scene three

At the gambling house, Yeletsky tells Tomsky his engagement is over. Tomsky entertains the rabble. Gherman arrives and bets everything he has, winning the first two rounds. Now only Yeletsky will play against him. Gherman announces that his ace wins, but he loses. The card is the Queen of Spades. Cursing the Countess's ghost, Gherman shoots himself and dies begging forgiveness.

Meet The artists

* Lyric debut
** Ryan Opera Center alumna

Program Book

Go inside this production of The Queen of Spades with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.


Lyric presentation of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades generously made possible by

Margot and Josef Lakonishok

Mrs. Herbert A. Vance & Mr. and Mrs. William C. Vance

Production originated at Welsh National Opera, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Den Norske Opera, and Canadian Opera Company.

Lyric Audio Streaming is made possible through a generous gift from

Robert F. Finke
in Memory of Carol Keenan

Photos: Cory Weaver