Based on a short story by Pushkin, fashioned into a libretto by the composer's brother, ‘The Queen of Spades’ was written in just five months. The story is set in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg and focuses on the young officer Gherman, who confides to his gambler friend Tomsky his love for a young woman. Later as the two congratulate Prince Yeletsky on his recent engagement, the elderly Countess and her granddaughter, Liza, and it transpires that she is the fiancée of the Prince and also the young woman Gherman is in love with. However, in a private meeting Gherman and Liza declare their love for each other.
Tomsky tells Gherman that the Countess has a secret method of gambling, using a certain sequence of three cards that always wins. Gherman is fascinated and becomes obsessed with finding out the winning three-card secret from the Countess. He goes to her quarters but accidentally frightens the elderly woman to death. Liza forgives him, however later they meet by a canal and when Gherman rejects her she jumps into the canal.
The Countess' ghost reveals the gambling secret to Gherman, who then goes to the casino and wins twice with it. Playing against Prince Yeletsky though, he becomes nervous and intends to select the ace but chooses the queen of spades instead. He loses everything and stabs himself to death.
This is the Schirmer edition of the Libretto, in English only.