The year 1938 is memorable in New England for the Great New England Hurricane, the deadliest and most powerful one in the region’s history. The storm’s winds gusted to 186 mph, produced a tide of 20 feet in downtown Providence, and took 564 lives. But 1938 also marked the start of an annual cultural whirlwind with its own enduring legacy: the Lowell House Opera, the longest continually performing opera company in New England. Each year the Lowell House dining room is converted to a stage and theater for an opera performed by professionals, students, and community members, with a 64-piece volunteer orchestra. Students learn firsthand from experienced opera personnel, and the combination of talents makes for a vibrant, energized production.

This year’s opera was Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades,” never before fully staged in Boston, and seldom presented in this country at all. Based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin, the opera follows the anguish of Gherman, an officer whose passion for the lovely Liza, already engaged to a nobleman, is coupled with an obsession to learn her grandmother the countess’ secret strategy for winning at cards. After the elderly Countess dies without disclosing her secret, her ghost returns to reveal the winning hands … before she exacts her revenge at a final card game and Gherman’s obsession turns to madness.

Performed in the original Russian with subtitles projected onto the set, “The Queen of Spades” offers a visceral, volatile production complete with elements of Russian drama: competing suitors in a tortured love affair, the psyche descending into insanity, aspects of the supernatural, and death by suicide. With a lively, innovative production such as this, the Lowell House Opera seems destined to continue forging its own legacy, begun in the memorable year of 1938, well into the future.

 

1 Subtitles were projected onto a flat, floor-to-ceiling board on the set.
2 Before the performance, set and lighting designer Mark Buchanan adjusts a shadow puppet to cast an image on the stage behind.
3 Stage manager Diana Smith ’17 (left) and director Roxanna Myhrum ’05 adjust a shadow puppet to cast an image on stage.
4 Mariya Shoteva, a native of Sofia, Bulgaria, who is finishing her master’s degree in voice and opera at the New England Conservatory, applies makeup in the dressing room before the performance.
5 Samantha Schmid of the Boston Conservatory, playing Liza, curls her hair before the show, while Amelia Wilber reads about Bach by a window.
6 Wardrobe designer Allison Schmidt steam-cleans a costume before the show.
7 Stage manager Diana Smith ’17 (left) sets up folding chairs for the orchestra as Asia Stewart ’18 (partially obscured) stacks dining-room chairs for removal before the performance.
8 Giliana Norkunas, a mezzo soprano who recently returned from a successful European tour, gets a warm hung from producer Julius Bright Ross ’17 in the dressing room before going on stage
9 Giliana Norkunas (center), who plays the Countess, is attended by wardrobe designer Allison Schmidt (left) and director Roxanna Myhrum ’05.
10 Mikhail Urusov (left), who made his debut at the Bolshoi Theater and has toured extensively in Russia, Europe, East Asia, and the United States, listens to director Roxanna Myhrum ’05.
11 Stage manager Diana Smith ’17 (left) and director Roxanna Myhrum ’05 check the lighting for an image cast by a shadow puppet offstage.
12 Jacob Scharfman, as Yeletsky, sings (center) as Giliana Norkunas, as the Countess (left), and Samantha Schmid, as Liza (right), look on.
13 Hospital attendants Jeramie Hammond (from left), Sean Currlin, and Sean Malkus share the stage.
14 Hospital nurses and attendants hold their arms aloft at the end of a stirring chorus.
15 Lidiya Yankovskaya conducts the 64-piece orchestra. In addition to conducting, Yankovskaya is a pianist and singer, and the Russian diction coach and occasional rehearsal conductor for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (chorus of the Boston Symphony).
16 Aaron Kuan (left), a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Mary Hecht, a library e-resources support specialist, play with the orchestra
17 Liza joins the hospital nurses for a rousing dance.
18 Samantha Schmid, as Liza, reaches out to Mikhail Urusov as Gherman, in a vain attempt to resolve their tangled love affair.
19 Samantha Schmid, as Liza, and Mikhail Urusov, as Gherman, are wrapped in an anguished embrace.
20 Theater accessories including a golden mask are left on a table after performers have left the dressing room.