The Queen of Spades was specially staged for the Leonid Yacobson ballet troupe by Iñaki Urlezaga, formerly a principal at the Covent Garden Royal Ballet and currently a choreographer, based in Argentina.
The première took place in 2019, during the celebrations of the poet Alexander Pushkin’s birth anniversary. The choreographer turned Pushkin’s eponymous classic short story into a succinct yet action-packed libretto. The music score is based on an abridged, choreography-friendly version of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s opera, also called The Queen of Spades, which the composer created during his stay in Florence. This explains the abundance of Italian influences in the music, also mirroring the Italian-style architecture of the ballet’s setting, St. Petersburg. And to fully close this circle, the troupe invited a team of Italian artists, headed by the inimitable Ezio Frigerio, to create the set and costumes for the production.
The freezing, austere embankments, the familiar rows of cast iron bars in the Summer Garden’s railing, the northern sun tinting the sky: these backdrops pay homage not just to the great poet, but also to the legendary Russian city. Franca Squarciapino, who designed dozens of outfits for the show, remained faithful to Pushkin’s text, making it clear that the characters are the poet’s contemporaries. The frilly caps atop the young maidens’ prim and proper hairstyles and the epaulettes on the officers' collars make it obvious that the story is taking place in the middle of the Russian Empire’s golden age, while the rustling, feather-light skirts of the ballerinas, glimmering in the spotlight, remind us that we are at a theatre, with its magic of transformation and mischievous charm.