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Pique Dame – Die Handlung - Deutsche Oper Berlin

From the programme booklet

Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) – Synopsis

Act I

Herman, a low-ranking military engineer, spends his nights at the gaming tables, observing the gambling without taking part. His comrades Chekalinsky and Surin observe his strange behaviour with some scepticism. Only the high-ranking Tomsky has an open ear for the outsider Herman, who confides to him that he has fallen in love with a mystery woman. He learns that this is Lisa, an aristocratic young girl, enganged to be married to Prince Yeletsky. Lisa lives with her grandmother, an
old countess who led a colourful life in the salons of Paris during her youth. The mysterious story of a secret of three cards follows her, cards which supposedly guarantee victory to those who know them. A ghostly prophecy says that only a man inflamed by passion could wrest the secret from the countess. When Herman hears this, it promises him untold wealth and the possibility to marry Lisa. Lisa also has feelings for Herman, the mysterious stranger. Polina and friends are celebrating Lisa’s engagement, but Lisa’s mood is low. The song and dance ends abruptly when the governess enters and enforces silence in the countess’ name. When Lisa is finally alone and about to go to bed, Herman suddenly appears in her bedroom, confessing his love for her in an outburst of unbridled passion. He barely manages to hide from the countess who enters the room, alarmed by the noise. As soon as Herman and Lisa are alone again, she also confesses her affection for him, and they embrace passionately.


Act II

Everyone has been invited to a festive ball. Yeletsky notices Lisa’s melancholy mood and assures her of his love, but her thoughts are already on Herman. Encouraged by his comrades Chekalinsky and Surin, who urge him to pursue his fascination with the secret of the cards, Herman grows increasingly delusional. Finally, Lisa and Herman meet on the dance floor, where she hands him the key to her bedroom. At Herman’s insistence, they agree that he will come to visit her that very night.

When the countess and Lisa return home, Herman has already hidden himself in the countess’s bedroom. A secret passage leads to Lisa’s bedroom. He pauses in the countess’s room, struck by the portrait of her eventful youth and her reminiscence. He emerges from his hiding place and insists that she reveal the secret of the cards to him. The countess, however, cannot bear the intensity of this situation and dies. Lisa rushes in, deeply shocked by the sight that awaits her.



In a last attempt, Lisa has written a letter to Herman, asking him for a meeting by midnight that evening to assuage her terrible suspicions and fears. In his barracks, Herman is tormented by thoughts of the turbulent events of the countess’ death, but has no intention of meeting Lisa. At this point, an apparition of the dead countess appears to reveal the secret of the cards to him: the three cards he must bet on are the Three, the Seven and the Ace. If he marries Lisa, he will win by betting on them – that is her condition.

Lisa awaits Herman at the winter canal. The last minutes before midnight pass, and she is losing all hope that he will appear. When he does arrive, they assure each other of their mutual love. Lisa tells him that she will follow him to the end of the world. Blinded by his desire for a big win, however, and thinking only of the countess and her secret, Herman hastens to the casino, abandoning his beloved. Bereft of all hope, Lisa drowns herself.

Boisterously, the men enjoy life with alcohol and gambling. Herman appears, now completely delusional and intoxicated by his knowledge of the secret of the cards. He bets all his life savings on the Three and wins. The Seven also brings him victory. No one dares play another round against him, as he seems possessed by the devil. Only Prince Yeletsky is rich enough to bet against him, in the hope of finally taking revenge. Herman bets his recently multiplied fortune on one card, and the Ace is drawn. In his delusional state, however, Herman had bet on the Queen of Spades instead. Herman believes himself to be cursed by the countess and takes his own life. In a final moment of mental absolution, he believes that Lisa has come to forgive him.

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