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Pushkin in operas

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 – 1837) was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

Pushkin's works provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila is the earliest important Pushkin-inspired opera, and a landmark in the tradition of Russian music. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (La Dame de Pique, 1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name.

Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas. Other Russian operas based on Pushkin include Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and The Stone Guest; Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Tale of Tsar Saltan, and The Golden Cockerel.

Operas based on works A.S.Pushkin

Rusalka is an opera in four acts, six tableaux, by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, composed during 1848-1855. The Russian libretto was adapted by the composer from Pushkin's incomplete dramatic poem of the same name. It premiered on 4 May 1856 (Old Style) at the Theatre-circus, conducted by Konstantin Lyadov (father of Anatoly Lyadov), choreographed by Marius Petipa and Nikolay Goltz, but was badly received predominantly by the aristocracy.


Alexander Dargomizhsky: Rusalka 
The Miller: Yuri Mathiukin
Natasha: Elena Zelenskaya
The Prince: Anatoly Zaitchenko
The Princess: Tatiana Yerastova
Olga:Galina Yerkova
The Wedding Master: Sergey Mursaev
Rusalocka: Anna Stikatirova
Bolshoi Theater Choir and Orchestra
Mark Ermler, conductor


Aleko (Russian: Алеко) is the first of three completed operas by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The Russian libretto was written by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and is an adaptation of the poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin. The opera was written in 1892 as a graduation work at the Moscow Conservatory, and it won the highest prizes from the conservatory judges that year. It was first performed in Moscow 19 May 1892.

Mavra is a one-act opera buffa composed by Igor Stravinsky, and one of the earliest works of Stravinsky's neo-classical period. The libretto of the opera, by Boris Kochno, is based on Alexander Pushkin's The Little House in Kolomna. Mavra is about 25 minutes long, and features two arias, a duet, and a quartet performed by its cast of four characters. Premiere    3 June 1922

Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

The Queen of Spades

"The Queen of Spades" illustrations by Alexander Alexeief (1923) 


Hermann / Герман - Vladimir Atlantov / Владимир Атлантов
Lisa / Лиза - Mirella Freni / Мирелла Френи
Countess / Графиня - Martha Mödl / Марта Мёдль 
Tomsky / Граф Томский - Sergei Leiferkus / Сергей Лейферкус 
Eletsky / Князь Елецкий - Vladimir Chernov / Владимир Чернов 
Polina / Полина - Vesselina Kasarova / Веселина Казарова 
Маша - Yvette Tannenberg 
Гувернантка - Anna Gonda
Чекалинский - Wilfried Gahmlich
Сурин - Rudolf Mazzola 
Распорядитель бала - Peter Jelosits 
Чаплицкий - Franz Kasemann
Нарумов - Peter Köves
Conductor / Дирижер - Seiji Ozawa / Сэйдзи Одзава. 

Chor & Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Хор и оркестр Венской оперы

The Queen of Spades, Op. 68 (Russian: Пиковая дама, Pikovaya dama, French: La Dame de Pique) is an opera in 3 acts (7 scenes) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to a Russian libretto by the composer's brother Modest Tchaikovsky, based on a short story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, but the plot was dramatically altered. The premiere took place in 1890 in St. Petersburg (at the Mariinsky Theatre), Russia.

The management of the Imperial Theatre offered a commission to Tchaikovsky to write an opera based on the plot sketch by Ivan Vsevolozhsky in 1887/88. After turning it down initially, Tchaikovsky accepted it in 1889. Toward the end of that year, he met with the theatre's managers to discuss the material and sketch out some of the scenes.

He completed the full score of the opera in Florence in only 44 days. Later on, working with the tenor who was to perform the lead character's part, he created two versions of Herman's aria in the seventh scene, using different keys. The changes can be found in the proof sheets and inserts for the first and second editions of the printed version of the score.

While composing the music, Tchaikovsky actively edited the libretto, changing some of the text and adding his own lyrics to two arias.

Herman, the lead character, sings in all seven scenes. This requires great skill and endurance by the performer. The part was written with the notable Russian tenor Nikolay Figner in mind, and he performed the role at the premiere. His wife Medea Mei-Figner created the role of Liza.

The composer himself took part in the preparation of the Saint Petersburg premiere. Critics gave rave reviews. Tchaikovsky later wrote, "Figner and the Saint Petersburg orchestra... have made true miracles."

The premiere's success was tremendous. The opera was just as successful at the Kiev premiere twelve days later. The Bolshoi Theatre premiere took place the following year. Tchaikovsky was extremely pleased with his effort.




Opera in three acts by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to a Russian libretto by  Modest Tchaikovsky, based on a short story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin

Count Tomsky
Prince Yeletsky

Master of Ceremonies       

Chorus, silent roles: Nursemaids, governesses, wet-nurses, strollers, children, gamblers

Act 2 Divertissement
Prilepa, or Chlöe     
Milovzor, or Daphnis        
Zlatogor, or Plutus       
Chorus, silent roles: Cupid, Hymen, shepherds and shepherdesses



Time: The close of the 18th century
Place: Russia

First performance in St. Petersburg, March 29, 1890


Count Tomsky:


Baritone. A friend to whom Hermann confesses his love of Lisa. Tomsky tells his fellow-officers of the Countess's youth in Paris, of how she was a gambler known as the Queen of Spades, and of how she came to possess the secret of the three cards which will always win. It is this secret which Hermann is determined to learn. Created (1890) by Ivan Mel'nikov.



Tenor. A Russian officer, he has fallen in love, but the lady turns out to be Prince Yeletsky's fiancée, Lisa. When young, Lisa's grandmother, the old Countess, lived in Paris and gambled heavily, being known as the Queen of Spades. After she lost her husband's fortune, a Count gave her the secret of three winning cards. These she told her husband and a lover, but a ghost warned her not to reveal them to anyone else. Hermann is determined to secure the secret, so he can win and be worthy of Lisa. He hides in the Countess's quarters and when she is alone he demands the secret. Terrified of him, she collapses and dies. Lisa sends him away and drowns herself. The Countess's ghost tells Hermann the three cards—3, 7 and Ace. He gambles on them, winning on the first two, but when he bets everything on the third card and turns it over, it is not the Ace but the Queen of Spades—the Countess has tricked him. He kills himself. Aria: Ya imeni yeyo ne znayu (‘I don't even know her name’); Chto nasha zhizn? Ingra! (‘What is our life? A game!’). Created (1890) by Nikolay Figner.

Prince Yeletsky:


Baritone. He recently became engaged to Lisa, granddaughter of the old Countess, the girl with whom Hermann has fallen in love. When Hermann gambles everything on the Ace of Spades, it is Yeletsky who accepts the bet, determined to destroy Hermann whom he holds responsible for Lisa's suicide. Aria: Ya vas lyublyu bezmerno (‘I love you beyond measure’). Created (1890) by Leonid Yakovlev.



Tenor. An officer and friend of Hermann. Created (1890) by Vasili Vasilyev.




Bass. Russian officer, friend of Hermann. Created (1890) by Hjalmar Frey.



Mezzo-soprano. Grandmother of Lisa, the old Countess was, in Paris in her youth, a heavy gambler who lost a great deal of money. A Count told her the secret of three cards which would always win. She revealed this secret to her husband and later to a lover. A ghost then told her that she would die if she revealed it a third time. When threatened by Hermann, she dies of shock at the sight of his gun. She later appears to him as a ghost and tells him ‘Three, seven, ace’. But she has tricked him and he loses. Aria: Je crains de lui parler la nuit (‘I fear to speak of him in the night’). This aria was copied by Tchaikovsky from Grétry's Richard Cœur‐de‐Lion. Created (1890) by Mariya Slavina.



Soprano. Granddaughter of the old Countess, recently engaged to Prince Yeletsky. (In Pushkin's novel, from which the libretto was adapted, Lisa was a ward of the Countess, not a relative, but she was upgraded in order to put her on a higher social standing than Hermann, who had to be wealthy in order to be worthy of her, hence his desperate need to win money.) Hermann has seen her and fallen in love with her and she is unable to resist him when he declares his feelings. She gives him a key to her room, and on his way there he passes through the Countess's quarters and demands from the old lady the secret of the three cards. The Countess dies of fright and Lisa realizes that, even though he loves her, Hermann has been using her to get to the Countess to satisfy his gambling needs. She drowns herself in the Winter Canal. Aria: Zachem zhe eti slyozi? (‘Why these tears?’); Akh, istomilas ya gorem (‘Ah, I am worn out by grief’). Created (1890) by Medea Mei‐Figner 

"The Queen of Spades" illustrations by Gennady Yepifanov (1966)


The Queen of Spades - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 

The opera is performed by the soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Great Theater of Moscow. 
Conductor - Mark Ermler. 
Soloists - Vladimir Atlantov, Tamara Milashkina and others.


00:00 - Introduction                             
03:53 - Gori Gori yasno
08:55 - Arioso German                         
12:01 - Ya imeni ee ne znau
14:24 - A esli tak, skorei za delo           
16:04 - Nakonez to Bog poslal nam
17:49 - A ti uveren
19:19 - Schastlivyi den
20:53 - Mne strashno
23:42 - Kakaya vedma
25:24 - Odnazhdi v Versale
29:19 - Se non e vero
33:00 - Uzh vecher
37:10 - Obvorozhitelno
38:24 - Podrugi milye
41:52 - Nu-ka svetik Mashenka
42:34 - Mesdemoiselles
44:08 - Pora uzh rashoditsya

46:33 - Otkuda eti slezi
50:57 - Ostanovites
54:52 - Prosti nebesnoe sozdanye
57:37 - Liza, otvori
59:26 - Kto strastno lubya
01:03:05 - Radostno, veselo
01:06:54 - Hozyain prosit 
01:09:28 - Ya vas lublu
01:13:21 - Posle predstavleniya
01:15:54 - Iskrennost pastushki
01:17:49 - Dance of Shepherds
01:20:14 - Moi milenkii druzhok
01:23:28 - Kak ti mila, prekrasna
01:30:14 - Kto pylko i strastno
01:34:49 - Vse tak, kak mne ona skazala
01:40:14 - Shagi, suda idut
01:43:10 - Polno vrat vam
01:46:06 - Je crains de lui parler la nuit

01:50:25 - Ne pugaites
01:55:35 - Ona mertva
01:58:10 - Ya ne veru
02:05:15 - Mne strashno, strashno
02:08:50 - Uzh polnoch blizitsya
02:10:57 - Ah, istomilas ya gorem
02:14:35 - A esli mne v otvet
02:17:27 - O da minovali stradanya
02:22:57 - Budem pit i veselitsya
02:24:24 - Dana, gnu paroli
02:26:07 - Esli b milye devitsi
02:28:40 - Tak v nenastnie dni
02:29:53 - Za delo, gospoda
02:33:25 - Chto nasha jizn? Igra
02:35:25 - Idet eshe
02:37:15 - Knyaz, knyaz, prosti menia
02:39:03 - Gospod, prosti emu


Scene 1  During the reign of Catherine the Great (1762–96), children are at play in St. Petersburg's Summer Garden pretending to be soldiers. Two officers — Tsurin and Chekalinsky — enter, the former complaining about his bad luck at gambling. They remark that another officer, Herman, seems obsessed with the gaming table but never bets, being frugal and methodical. Herman appears with Tomsky, who remarks that his friend hardly seems like his old self: is anything bothering him? Herman admits he is in love with a girl above his station whose name he does not even know. When Prince Yeletsky, an officer, strolls into the park, Chekalinsky congratulates him on his recent engagement. Yeletsky declares his happiness while Herman, aside, curses him enviously. Yeletsky points out his fiancée, Liza, who has just appeared with her grandmother, the old Countess.


Scene 2  At home, Liza plays the spinet as she and her friend Pauline sing a duet about evening in the countryside. Their girlfriends ask to hear more, so Pauline launches into a sad ballad, followed by a dancelike song. As the merriment increases, Liza remains pensively apart. A Governess chides the girls for indulging in unbecoming folk dancing and asks the visitors to leave. Pauline, the last to go, urges Liza to cheer up; Liza replies that after a storm there is a beautiful night and asks the maid, Masha, not to close the French windows to the balcony. 

Alone, Liza voices her unhappiness with her engagement; she has been stirred by the romantic look of the young man in the park. To her shock, Herman appears on the balcony. Claiming he is about to shoot himself over her betrothal to another, he begs her to take pity on him. When the Countess is heard knocking, Liza hides Herman and opens the door to the old woman, who tells her to shut the windows and go to bed. After the Countess retires, Liza asks Herman to leave but is betrayed by her feelings and falls into his embrace.


Scene 1  Not long afterward, at a masked ball, Herman's comrades comment on his obsession with the secret of the winning cards. Yeletsky passes with Liza, noting her sadness and reassuring her of his love. This is where the famous aria ya vas lublyu is sung. Herman receives a note from Liza, asking him to meet her later. Tsurin and Chekalinsky sneak up behind him with the intent of playing a joke on him, muttering he is the "third suitor" who will learn the Countess's secret, then melt into the crowd as Herman wonders whether he is hearing things. The master of ceremonies announces a tableau of shepherdesses. 


Liza slips Herman the key to her grandmother's room, saying the old woman will not be there the next day, but Herman insists on coming that very night. Thinking fate is handing him the Countess' secret, he leaves. The guests' attention turns to the imminent arrival of Catherine the Great, for which a polonaise by O. Kozlovsky is played and sung in greeting.


Scene 2  Herman slips into the Countess' room and looks in fascination at the portrait of Muskovite Venus and how their fates, he feels, are linked: one of them will die because of the other. He lingers too long before he can go to Liza's room and hears the Countess' retinue coming, so he conceals himself as the old lady approaches. The Countess deplores the manners of the day and reminisces about the better times of her youth, when she sang in Versailles "Je crains de lui parler la nuit" (Laurette's Aria) from André Grétry's opera Richard Cœur-de-Lion before the Pompadour herself. As she dozes off, Herman stands before her. She awakens in horror as he pleads with her to tell him her secret. When she remains speechless, he grows desperate and threatens her with a pistol — at which she dies of fright. Liza rushes in, only to learn that the lover to whom she gave her heart was more interested in the Countess's secret. She orders him out and falls sobbing.


Scene 1  
In his room at the barracks, as the winter wind howls, Herman reads a letter from Liza, who wants him to meet her at midnight by the river bank. He imagines he hears the chorus chanting at the old Countess' funeral, then is startled by a knock at the window. The old woman's ghost appears, announcing that against her will she must tell him the secret so that he can marry and save Liza. Dazed, Herman repeats the three cards — three, seven, ace.

Scene 2

By the Winter Canal, Liza waits for Herman: it is already near midnight, and though she clings to a forlorn hope that he still loves her, she sees her youth and happiness swallowed in darkness. At last he appears, but after uttering words of reassurance, he starts to babble wildly about the Countess and her secret. No longer even recognizing Liza, he rushes away. Realizing that all is lost, she commits suicide.

Scene 3  At a gambling house, Herman's fellow officers are finishing supper and getting ready to play faro. Yeletsky, who has not gambled before, joins the group because his engagement has been broken: "unlucky in love, lucky at cards." Tomsky entertains the others with a song. Then Chekalinsky leads a traditional gamblers' song. Settling down to play, they are surprised when Herman arrives, wild and distracted. Yeletsky senses a confrontation and asks Tomsky to be his second if a duel should result.

Herman, intent only on betting, starts with a huge bet of 40,000 rubles. He bets the three and wins, upsetting the others with his maniacal expression. Next he bets the seven and wins again. At this he takes a wine glass and declares that life is but a game. Yeletsky accepts his challenge to bet on the next round. Herman bets everything he has on the ace but when he shows his card he is told he is holding the queen of spades. Seeing the Countess' ghost laughing at her vengeance, Herman takes his own life and asks Yeletsky's and Liza's forgiveness. The others pray for his tormented soul.

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