Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades at AVA

Queen of Spades (Pique Dame) Opera by  Peter I. Tchaikovsky) Russian Opera Workshop,  Ghenady Meirson, Music Director & Pianist, Academy of Vocal Arts,  Helen Corning Warden Theater, 1925 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Performed July 24, 25, 26, 2012. Review of 7/25 for WRTI, 90.1 fm

The Russian Workshop that summers at Academy of Vocal Arts took on a big challenge this month with Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. Adding to the challenges of the dificult opera, the heat was stifling in AVA’s shoebox theater. Just as well that the 13 emerging artists from all over the map weren’t in costume. So tight were they stuffed on stage for the  concert performance – with music director Ghenady Meirson  at the keyboard.  Meirson needed a better piano for the ravages of this tale. Queen of Spades, based on Pushkin,  is another love story that doesn’t end well.  Herman, who gambles, also not well, has his heart set on Liza, who’s engaged to someone else. If he can win the secrets of the cards from Lisa’s grandmother, the countess, he thinks he’ll win the girl.  Fate of course throws its hand. But not before lots of girl and guy friends put in their money’s worth. The cast of young singers in the Russian Workshop production at AVA   were nicely matched.  At the performance I heard (July 25). Herman was sung by tenor Steven Williamson of Westminster Choir College, who gave the role an increasingly obsessive ardor. Liza was Nathalie Avila, from Miami, whose power and range is immense. Michael J. Davis was an excellent Tomsky. Maude Paradis took the Countess or the Queen of Spades at this one but all the women’s roles were notable especially the governess of mezzo Raehann Bryce Davis of Manhattan, who sang the title other nights. Look for these young artists everywhere.

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