In the spirit of friendship

It was to be the fifth production at the Deutsche Oper Berlin – then Graham Vick unexpectedly died. Sam Brown is now bringing the project to completion

The first production by Graham Vick that I ever saw changed my life. You have to remember that he held two roles: Firstly, he was a director in the most prestigious temples to high culture, such as the Scala in Milan or the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Secondly, he was the founder of the Birmingham Opera Company productions with amateur performers. Often in warehouses, abandoned factories, neighbourhoods that had seen better days. One time I entered this draughty hangar, so gigantic that jumbo jets could have been built in them, full of regular people from Birmingham – and suddenly they started singing the opening chorus to Verdi’s OTELLO. It was unbelievable.

Even though I only assisted Graham, he was always a friend and mentor to me. We were still in touch shortly before he passed. I was asking for advice for my production of COSÍ FAN FUTTE, his favourite opera. His last message to me was an apology: “I’m in the hospital, Sam. I’m sorry that I’ll miss your COSÍ – but I’m going to miss a whole lot else, too!” He was someone I could always rely on, who helped me with his knowledge and experience, and someone you could go to with any problems you may have.

To be quite honest, I was hesitant when I got the offer to take on his production of Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME, which, unlike other projects, wasn’t being cancelled. I was asked to produce the piece together with Graham’s long-time stage and costume designer Stuart Nunn, as well as his widower, choreographer Ron Howell. It felt not only like an incredible challenge, but also a great privilege. Ultimately, I thought that Graham had given me so much, so maybe this is an opportunity to give him something back.

I wouldn’t say that we have the same style, but I also got a lot of ideas from him when it comes to the methodology of directing. At first I still believed that opera direction means thinking of the greatest possible idea. Graham had a different approach: He made as many decisions in advance as he could. He encouraged me to be in the room with the people first so that I could get a feel for their energy.

That’s another reason why I took on PIQUE DAME. I knew that the framework that he’d created provides a lot of room for conceptual freedom. Of course, it’s still a challenge, but Stuart Nunn’s multifaceted stage design provides a wonderful range of opportunities to bring the huge tableaux and the intimate scenes to life. My own artistic ideas can come alive. It may sound dramatic, but Graham’s ideas for PIQUE DAME outside of the equipment died with him. As a director, I have to walk my own path.

Sam Brown © Johanna Sterner


I first became familiar with PIQUE DAME as a director’s assistant, and was immediately head over heels for the work. Tchaikovsky had me in the palm of his hands, just as Hermann’s gambling addiction had a hold of him. I saw in it a perfect connection between text and music: The dramatic sounds of this rich orchestra unwaveringly drive the narrative forward, while the characters are captivatingly brought to life through music. Having the opportunity to produce the opera myself is, despite the tragic circumstances, a fifteen-year dream come true.

I feel that PIQUE DAME is Tchaikovsky’s most personal opera, although it was based on a work by Alexander Pushkin. Letters have revealed how much Tchaikovsky identified with the main character, Hermann. Hermann feels as though he doesn’t belong anywhere, the only person to not be invited to the party. But the women in the opera are lonely in their own way, too. The opera is the story of an outsider. Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky and his brother Modest, who also worked on the opera, will have been familiar with this as homosexual men living in that time. I also think that this work tells us a lot about Russian society that can help us better understand our present day. Contrary to the Pushkin version, the motivations of the characters in the opera are often less clear, which provides room for ambiguity. Does Hermann love Lisa or is she nothing more than a tool for him? Is Lisa a helpless victim, or does she see in Hermann a way to break out of her gilded cage? Is the mysterious secret of the cards real, or is it nothing more than a product of Hermann’s mania? Tchaikovsky plays with his cards close to his chest, and I will do the same.


Written by Patrick Wildermann, who writes about theatre, culture and social issues for Tagesspiegel, the Galore magazine etc.

Images at the top: After a decades-long absence, Graham Vick returned to the Deutsche Oper Berlin with his production of TRISTAN AND ISOLDE in 2011. He demonstrated his mastery of conception and visualisation pertaining to outsiders in particular with his 2016 production of MORGEN UND ABEND, Georg Friedrich Haas’s fisherman drama, as well as his 2017 production of Britten’s DEATH IN VENICE


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Der Adventskalender 2023

Just like cinnamon and biscuits, the musical Advent calendar is an integral part of the pre-Christmas period. In keeping with the motto "brevity is the spice of life", we will once again be presenting a varied programme in December from Monday to Friday from 5.00 p.m. in the foyers or in the Tischlerei to sweeten the wait for the big festive season. From the presentation of the new scholarship holders, who enrich the vocal ensemble, to readings, piano music and Christmas brass, to a visit from St Nicholas, there's something for everyone. Come along and experience our artists up close!

Our Advent Foyer Programme
Visit our chamber concerts and readings from Monday to Friday, from 5.00 p.m. to approx. 5.25 p.m., in the Rank foyer on the right, in the Parquet Foyer or in the Tischlerei. Admission is free.

1 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"An American Christmas" - Favourite songs from North and South America
with Julie Wyma, Valeria Delmé and Jamison Livsey

4 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
African American Spirituals
with Christian Simmons and John Parr

5 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
César Franck: Sonata in A major for violin and piano
with Elisabeth Heise-Glass and Elda Laro

6 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
St Nicholas comes to visit
with Gerard Farreras, Jens Holzkamp and the Junge Deutsche Oper

7 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
"Christmas is here again"
with the small chorus of the children's chorus, Rosemarie Arzt and Jitsu Park

8 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
Excerpts from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"
with soloists from the children's and youth chorus and the chorus

11 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
"Ding Dong! Merrily on High"
with the VoiceChangers and Rosemarie Arzt

12 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
Our scholarship holders introduce themselves
with Hye-Young Moon, Lilit Davtyan, Youngkwang Oh and Pauli Jämsä

13 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Jewish music for Hanukkah
with Daniel Draganov, Natalie Buck and Maxime Perrin

14 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"Roses et papillons" - songs by César Franck
with Andrea Schwarzbach and Christian Zacker

15 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Maurice Ravel: "Chansons madécasses"
with Arianna Manganello, Elda Laro, Arne-Christian Pelz, Ruth Pereira-Medina

18 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"Four tubas for a Merry Christmas"
with Vikentios Gionanidis, Péter Kánya, Thomas Leyendecker and Thomas Richter

19 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
Karol Szymanowksi: Sonata for violin and piano, op. 9
with Magdalena Heinze and Elda Laro

20 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
The golden era of bel canto
with Arianna Manganello and Elda Laro

21 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" - A reading
with Dietmar Schwarz and Fanny Frohnmeyer

22 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
Christmas singing together
with the brass players of the Deutsche Oper Berlin

All further information in the respective daily door on our homepage

Raffles at the weekends
Because an Advent calendar is of course also filled at weekends and on Christmas Eve, you will find online prize draws on our homepage on Saturdays and Sundays as well as on 24 December. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our co-operation partners such as NAXOS and Sauerländer Audio.