Originally from Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Jacques Lacombe received his musical training at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec in Trois-Rivières and Montreal as well as the Vienna Academy of Music, where [...]
Tchaïkovsky: The Queen of Spades
They spoke about it
The Queen of Spades
Gabriel Thibaudeau, adaptation
Based on a short story written over 150 years ago by Alexander Pushkin, the ballet The Queen of Spades, conceived and choreographed by Kim Brandstrup, explores a new aspect of the eternal theme of human will in the face of fate.
Leningrad, 1938. Hermann, a young soldier of the Soviet army, learns of a secret of three winning cards held by an old Countess. By seducing her young attendant, Lisa, Hermann gains access to the Countess who he approaches to reveal her secret. In a moment of frenzy he threatens her. The Countess collapses and dies from the shock. Tormented by guilt and desperation, Hermann has a vision of the Countess in which she forgives him and reveals the secret. Half crazed, he rushes to the gambling house. In a dramatic denouement, Hermann discovers at his own expense that man cannot play with his destiny.
The world premiere took place on October 18, 2001 at Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts in Montreal. OrchestrationWhen I was asked to adapt Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades in May 2000, I wondered for the longest time whether an adaptation would be a betrayal. Given that the opera itself had been inspired by a novel by Pushkin, choreographer Kim Brandstrup and I decided to preserve as much of the composer’s music as possible. However, to make the material fit the ballet framework, we had to cut many sections (the opera lasts over 3 hours, the ballet 80 minutes) while at the same time retaining musical coherence. And, just like Tchaikovsky, I had to compose new music to maintain the dramatic tension of Pushkin’s text.
The orchestration of the ballet is more or less the same as that of the opera, with a few minor exceptions. The accordion, often associated with Russian folklore, is used in scenes two and five. For the Countess’ theme in scene four, I chose the G alto flute whose resonant yet fragile timbre seemed appropriate for expressing the complexity of the character. In scene six, a duet between the principal cello and a tubular bell ostinato links two grand romantic melodies, creating a musical bridge whose emotional impact is enhanced by its unusual sobriety. Although Tchaikovsky was a romantic composer, he used a variety of musical styles in his opera to illustrate his story, including Orthodox chants, drawing-room music, folk dances, and even pastiches of Mozart. Tchaikovsky believed Mozart was the greatest composer of all time and wanted to pay him tribute. These Mozart-like elements appear in the third scene of the ballet.
Following Tchaikovsky’s initiative and adapting his themes, I composed the entire final scene with inspiration from—Prokofiev! Far from betraying the original works they are based on, adaptations have always sought to reinterpret from a different point of view. After all, is not life itself a continual reinterpretation? Long live music!
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal
Founded in 1957 by Ludmilla Chiriaeff, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal has played a major role in the evolution of dance in Canada. Recognized for its uncommon ability to blend classical tradition with contemporary dance through an original repertoire, the Company, under the artistic direction of Gradimir Pankov, has a well-established international reputation. Primarily anchored in a powerful classical tradition,
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal has often performed masterpieces of the 19th century: Coppélia, Giselle and extracts of Swan Lake mark high points in the Company’s history. However, since the 70’s, the Company’s repertoire has been enriched by major 20th-century works, with a special emphasis on Balanchine, Nijinsky, Fokine, Limón and Jooss. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal has called upon the talents of choreographers from both here and abroad. Fernand Nault – who is now choreographer emeritus – started collaborating with the Company in 1964, creating the famous Nutcracker, still a creative high point of Montréal’s Christmas season.
Furthermore, Carmina Burana and Tommy stand as the Company’s greatest public successes. Along with Fernand Nault, several other Canadian choreographers have worked with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal; among the most notable of these choreographers is Brian Macdonald, artistic director of the Company from 1974 to 1978, who created important works like the folkloric ballet Tam Ti Delam and Double Quatuor. James Kudelka, choreographer in residence from 1984 to 1990, enriched Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s repertoire.
Since 1990, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal has commissioned several original works from choreographers, many of whom were mere beginners at the time, notably Mark Godden, Ib Andersen and Kevin O’Day. Other, more noted choreographers, such as Édouard Lock, Jean Grand-Maître, Ginette Laurin, Mark Morris, Nacho Duato, Jirí Kylián, Ohad Naharin and others saw the company as an opportunity to adapt to a new creative climate, different from their usual work environment. The company has thus accorded a special welcome to both home-grown talent and choreographers of international repute. In January 2000, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal welcomed a new artistic director, Gradimir Pankov.
Originally from Macedonia, he has devoted himself to dance for over 40 years. After a brilliant career as a dancer in ex-Yugoslavia and Germany, he went on to successively assume the role of artistic director at the Nederlands Dans Theater II (Netherlands), the National Ballet of Finland, the Cullberg Ballet (Sweden), and the Ballet du Grand Théâtre in Geneva. Gradimir Pankov has also been a guest professor at some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies, notably the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris, the Nederlands Dans Theater, and the American Ballet Theater in New York.
His work as artistic director and teacher has given him the opportunity to develop close ties with many choreographers, including Jirí Kylián, Mats Ek, Ohad Naharin, and Christopher Bruce. Gradimir Pankov is turning Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal into one of the most exciting companies in the world of ballet. To do so, he is strengthening the troupe’s reputation for excellence and create a balance between classical and contemporary ballet—between respect for tradition and a willingness to innovate.
© Gabriel Thibaudeau