The Queen of Spades is one of my favorite operas, and I was very happy to attend the Met's revival of its Elijah Moshinsky production on March 15. But one thing kept nagging at me throughout the performance: why cast Dolora Zajick as the old Countess? I think this was a blunder, for reasons that don't have to do with Zajick's abilities. She certainly sang the role well — particularly in the second act, when the Countess recalls a few lines from Grétry's Richard Coeur de Lion. But Zajick is still in excellent vocal shape, still performing leading mezzo roles — she is still very much a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.
I think this is key to the casting of the Countess: as Mark Thomas Ketterson touches on in his "Coda" in the March issue of OPERA NEWS, the audience's memories of the star singing the role should bring with her a certain gravitas, an emotional connection from the past that matches up with the Countess's own sad, backward glance. We need to be aware that it is really is an older woman up there — not a healthy, vibrant woman in her mid-fifties. It's what gives the role its real punch: our feelings about the aging singer and what she gave us over her long career play into the performance itself. I'm reminded of Elaine Stritch's observation that women in their forties and fifties have no business singing Stephen Sondheim's "I'm Still Here."
My choice for the Countess would have been Renata Scotto: she has more magnetic glamour than ever, and even though she's seventy-seven, I'll bet she could have sung the role superbly. Any other suggestions?