THE QUEEN OF SPADES
St. Petersburg. The children are at play, watched over by nannies and governesses, in the sunny alleys of the Summer Garden. Surin and Chekalinsky are conversing about their friend Herman: gloomy and silent, he spends night after night in the gambling house, but never touches the cards. Count Tomsky is also surprised by his unusual behaviour. Herman reveals his secret to him: he is madly in love with a beautiful stranger, but she is rich and noble and can never belong to him. Yeletsky joins his friends. He tells them of his impending marriage. Liza, followed by the old Countess, approaches them – she is Yeletsky’s bride. Seeing the gloomy Herman and his ardent gaze, Liza is taken by an ominous foreboding. The heavy silence is broken by Tomsky. He shares an anecdote about the Countess. She had diced away her entire fortune in Paris when she was young. At the cost of a night of love the young beauty learns the secret of the three cards, and by betting on them she wins back her fortune. Surin and Chekalinsky decide to play a joke on Herman: they suggest that he should find out the secret of three cards from the old woman. But Herman is preoccupied with thoughts of Liza. A storm begins. In a fit of passion, Herman swears to either win Liza’s love or die.
Liza’s room. Nightfall. Her friends are trying to divert Liza with Russian folk dances. Left alone, Liza confesses to the night of her love for Herman. Suddenly, Herman appears on the balcony. He passionately proclaims his love for Liza. A knock on the door interrupts the date. The old Countess enters. Hiding behind the drapes, Herman remembers about the secret of the three cards. When the Countess is gone, his heart is ablaze with a new thirst for life and love. Liza reciprocates his feelings.
A masked ball in a rich government official’s house. Worried by his bride’s iciness, Prince Yeletsky assures her of his love and faithfulness. Herman is among the guests. Chekalinsky and Surin continue to tease their friend; their mysterious whispers of the magical cards affect his distempered mind. The performance begins – a pastoral called “The Shepherdess’s Candour”. After the performance Herman encounters the old Countess; again, he is seized by thoughts of fortunes promised by the three cards. He received the keys to a secret door from Liza and decides to warm the secret out of the old woman.
Nighttime. The countess’s empty bedroom. Herman enters; he nervously studies a portrait of the young Countess, but hides, hearing approaching footsteps. The countess, followed by her suite, enters. Dissatisfied with the ball, she reminisces about the past before falling asleep. Suddenly, Herman appears before her. He begs to know the secret of three cards. But the old Countess is silent. Enraged, Herman threatens her with a gun: the scared old woman drops dead. Herman is desperate. Almost mad, he doesn’t hear the reproaches of Liza, who came running towards the noise. He is possessed by a single thought: the Countess is dead and he doesn’t know her secret.
Herman’s room in the barracks. Late evening. Herman thoughtfully re-reads Liza’s letter: she is asking him to meet her at midnight. Herman remembers the previous events again; he sees the old woman’s death and her funeral. He thinks he hears a mournful song through the wind. Herman is terrified. He wants to run away, but he the old woman’s ghost appears to him. She names the three secret cards: “Three, seven, ace”. Herman repeats them in a trance.
The Winter Canal. Liza is supposed to meet here with Herman. She wants to believe that her beloved is not guilty of the Countess’s death. The clock tower strikes midnight. Liza loses hope, but Herman finally appears. Full of maniacal thoughts of winning, he mechanically repeats Liza’s words of love. Hearing his incoherent story, Liza realises that he has killed the old woman; she is horrified. In a fit of madness Herman pushes Liza away, shouting: “To the gambling house!” – and runs away. In despair, Liza throws herself in the water.
A game is in progress in the gambling house. Herman bids for the first, and then the second card named by the countess and wins. Everyone’s astounded. Flush with victory, Herman bets everything. Prince Yeletsky accepts his bid. Herman calls an ace, but instead of an ace, he is holding a queen of spades. Delirious, he looks at the cards, and sees the Countess with a devilish grin on her face. Beside himself with madness, he commits suicide. In his last moments of consciousness, Liza’s bright image appears before Herman. He dies with her name on his lips.