Tchaikovsky wrote Queen of Spades, in 1890, and one other opera, Iolanta, in 1891, near the end of his life after having promised never to write another opera because of the unpopularity of The Sorceress (1887). For theatre, these were very fertile years for Tchaikovsky. The Mariinksy first performed Sleeping Beauty in 1890 and Nutcracker in 1892. He wrote Queen of Spades at a Mozartean rate in Florence where it is said he composed the music faster than his brother Modest wrote and sent the libretto scene by scene. Perhaps living in Florence gave him enough distance from the darker, more repellent aspects of the story to avoid getting run down by it, but anyhow it seems a strange subject for him to choose, especially surprising to hear the incredibly lyrical music he created for it. The antihero Hermann is repellent, but for some of the beautiful music Tchaikovsky gave him, yet even so Hermann’s are not as beautiful as Don Giovanni’s arias (and duets), but I don’t believe Tchaikovsky thought or intended his music to be as beautiful as Mozart’s.
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
To open the Sydney Symphony's 2012 season and the year of their 80th birthday, Vladimir Ashkenazy. artistic director and chief conductor, has put together a generous program of powerful German music. Beethoven's Ninth finds itself played to mark great occasions, the reopening of Bayreuth in 1953 comes to mind and its own creation came at the end of decades of war in Europe. The Sydney Symphony has not played it for five years — for their 75th anniversary — so it would feel now about due for their attention. The piece is so famous and familiar, though, even as an occasional performance, there is the risk of over familiarity. With so much wonderful inherited music and worthy current music and music which would potentially exist given the opportunity of performance, should the Ninth, or any piece, be played if the performance cannot discover anything new in the piece? For the listeners, they can always seek out new aspects of the piece since one's disposition and experience in life effect one's ears so strongly, but it helps to have musicians, like Ashkenazy, full of ideas. "Occasion" implies some shared new experience anyway. But on the other hand, the earthly specificity of an occasion can in a way put a drag on a sublime performance of the Ninth. It is such spiritual, metaphysical music, rooted in itself, in this way a universal piece, somehow worldly events seem to anchor it in time and space in an uncomfortable way, paradoxically perhaps. As a birthday party for a very fine and healthy symphony orchestra with surely many more anniversaries ahead of it, the occasion here did not "get in the way," as it were, very much, rather the music tended to come first, as it should. A symphony orchestra is after all a selfless crew in many ways.
Parody as a technique of satire ought to suit theatrical dance well. Irish poets, known as some of the greatest masters of this form, in imitating and reversing the meter of their victim’s poems in order to devastate them are said to have used the same technique as Russian witches: "they walk quietly behind their victim, exactly mimicking his gate; then when in perfect sympathy with him suddenly stumble and fall, taking care to fall soft while he falls hard."  Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet's piece Babel (words) takes on the modern world, in a deliberate mixture of satire, serious avant-garde dance, science fiction, declamatory monologues and something bordering on a three-ring circus.