Pique Dame (Suppé)

Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) is an operetta in two acts by Franz von Suppé to a German-language libretto very loosely based on Alexander Pushkin's 1834 short story "The Queen of Spades". The author of the libretto is S. Strasser (probably Suppè's second wife Sofie Strasser).[1] Pique Dame was a revised version of Suppé's 1862 operetta Die Kartenschlägerin ("The Fortune Teller") and premiered in June 1864 at the Thalia Theater in Graz. The work is primarily known today for its overture which remains a popular concert piece.

Pique Dame
Operetta by Franz von Suppé
Pique Dame by Franz von Suppé, overture title page.jpg
Title page of the score for the Pique Dame overture, published in 1867
TranslationThe Queen of Spades
LibrettistS. Strasser
June 1864 (1864-06)
Thalia Theater, Graz

Background and performance historyEdit

Pique Dame is a revised version of Suppé's earlier (and unsuccessful) one-act operetta on the same subject, Die Kartenschlägerin ("The Fortune Teller") which had premiered in Vienna in 1862. Suppé expanded the earlier version to two acts and retitled it Pique Dame, the French title of Pushkin's "The Queen of Spades", on which its libretto is very loosely based.[2] The manuscript libretto is marked "S.S.". In Franz von Suppé: Werk und Leben, Hans-Dieter Roser speculates that this may have referred to Sigmund Schlesinger (1832–1918), a Viennese writer known for his short comic plays.[3] In 2019 Andreas Weigel found out that the author of the libretto is S. Strasser (probably Suppè's second wife Sofie Strasser whom Suppè met in 1860).[4]

The new operetta premiered at the Thalia Theater in Graz in June 1864 with Amalie Materna singing the central role of Judith.[5] The exact date of the premiere varies in the sources. According to Otto Schneidereit in Franz von Suppé: der Wiener aus Dalmatien, it was 24 June, while Roser gives the date as 20 June.[3][6] Following the Graz premiere which had been personally supervised by Suppé, Pique Dame opened at the Carltheater in Vienna in 1865.[7]

Although the work was fairly successful in its day, it is now rarely performed. Some of its music was later incorporated into Suppé's Boccacio when it was revived at the Metropolitan Opera in 1931, and the overture, published on its own in 1867, remains a popular concert and recording piece.[2][7] A concert performance of Pique Dame conducted by Michail Jurowski was given at the Cologne Philharmonie on 1 December 2006 and broadcast on WDR radio on 29 December. A recording made in late November 2006 with the same cast was later released on CD.[3][5][8]


Amalie Materna, who created the role of Judith in the 1864 premiere
Role Voice type Premiere cast, June 1864[9]
Judith, a fortune teller mezzo-soprano Amalie Materna
Emil, an army officer and composer, Judith's foster son baritone
Hedwig, in love with and loved by Emil soprano
Fabian Muker, Hedwig's guardian tenor
Madame Duplesis, Hedwig's mother, a wealthy widow speaking role
Henriette, Hedwig's girlfriend soprano
Emma, Hedwig's girlfriend soprano
Fanni, Hedwig's girlfriend soprano
Bertha, Hedwig's girlfriend soprano
Clara, Hedwig's girlfriend mezzo-soprano
Gebhardt, Emil's friend bass
Felix, Emil's friend tenor


The story concerns the tribulations of the young lovers, Emil, an impoverished composer, and Hedwig, the daughter of a wealthy widow. Hedwig is in turn pursued by her guardian, Fabian Muker, who is also in love with her (and her fortune). Through the efforts of Judith, a fortune-teller and Emil's foster mother, all ends happily with Emil and Hedwig able to marry, and Hedwig's guardian revealed to be Emil's uncle.[10]


According to Robert Letellier in his 2013 introduction to Franz von Suppé: Overtures and Preludes, the enduring popularity the work's overture as a concert piece for orchestras stems from its "varied and vivid melodies", beautiful flute solo, and themes which "leap" between the higher and lower instruments of the orchestra.[7] The original orchestral score for the overture has been adapted for piano four hands by Theodor Herbert (1822–1891) and for solo piano by Clemens Schultze-Biesantz (1876–1935).[11] It was also adapted for the mechanical organ by the Aeolian Company who described the piece in their 1919 catalog:

Franz von Suppé as a young man

At the beginning there is heard a mysterious theme, several times repeated, and this theme then turns out to be simply the accompaniment for a lyric melody which is now voiced above it and which proves to be an important musical factor in the overture, culminating in a big climax. After this a merry theme makes its appearance, its brisk, happy character supplying ideal contrast to the foregoing music. Another fine lyric theme and a gay melody are added, and a rushing brilliant coda brings the overture to a happy conclusion.[12]

The Pique Dame overture was often heard in cinemas during the era of the silent film when deluxe screenings were preceded by an overture or other concert piece played by a live orchestra. The film music director and composer Hugo Riesenfeld listed it as one of the ten most frequently performed pieces of music in movie theaters of the era.[13] D. W. Griffith's 1914 film Judith of Bethulia had a complete live sound track specified by Griffiths himself in which the Pique Dame overture, played in its entirety, opened the second reel. (The Judith sound track encompassed 11 pieces in all, beginning with music from Wallace's opera Maritana and ending with Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite.)[14]


The only known recording of the full opera is:

It was recorded in the Klaus-von-Bismark-Saal, Cologne, 21–29 November 2006, with the same cast, orchestra, and conductor who gave the live concert performance of the work at the Cologne Philharmonie on 1 December 2006. The spoken dialogue is omitted in the recording.

The overture on its own appears in numerous orchestral recordings, including Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and John Barbirolli conducting the Hallé Orchestra.[15] It also appears in Suppé: Overtures and Marches with Neeme Järvi conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (released in 2013).[16] One of the earliest recordings of the overture was in 1917 by the Victor Talking Machine Company.[17]


  1. ^ Andreas Weigel: Fundstücke zur Beziehung zwischen Franz von Suppè und seiner zweiten Ehefrau Sofie Strasser. Eine Korrektur.
  2. ^ a b Traubner, Richard (2003). Operetta: A Theatrical History, pp. 100–103. Routledge. ISBN 1135887837
  3. ^ a b c Roser, Hans-Dieter (2007). Franz von Suppé: Werk und Leben, pp. 258, 278. Edition Steinbauer. ISBN 3902494220
  4. ^ Andreas Weigel: Fundstücke zur Beziehung zwischen Franz von Suppè und seiner zweiten Ehefrau Sofie Strasser. Eine Korrektur.
  5. ^ a b Dreyssig, Alexander (5 January 2010). "Suppé Franz von: Pique Dame" (review). Klassik Heute. Retrieved 5 February 2014 (in German).
  6. ^ Schneidereit, Otto (1977). Franz von Suppé: der Wiener aus Dalmatien, p. 79. Lied der Zeit.
  7. ^ a b c Letellier, Robert Ignatius (2013). Franz von Suppé: Overtures and Preludes, p. x. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 1443844608
  8. ^ Kölner Philharmonie (2006). Concert Program. Retrieved 8 February 2014 (in German)
  9. ^ Roles and voice types sourced from Dreyssig, Alexander (5 January 2010) and Kölner Philharmonie (2006)
  10. ^ a b Sheppard, John (February 2010). "Review: Franz von Suppé: Pique Dame (CPO 777 480-2)". MusicWeb International. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  11. ^ OCLC 839152691; OCLC 496034923
  12. ^ Aeolian Company (1919). The Aeolian pipe-organ and its music, p. 397
  13. ^ Koszarski, Richard (1994). An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928, p. 50. University of California Press. ISBN 0520085353
  14. ^ Landy, Marcia (ed.) (1991). Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film & Television Melodrama, p. 360. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814320651.
  15. ^ OCLC 42870707; OCLC 54377791
  16. ^ OCLC 823380314
  17. ^ New Victor Records July 1917, p. 13. Victor Talking Machine Company

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