Officer Gherman is troubled. The beautiful girl he loves is engaged to be married and he does not even know her name. It is hopeless though; how will they ever be together when she is the granddaughter of a Countess? But today, a chance meeting in the garden with that awful Prince Yeletsky parading his bride-to-be, the beautiful Liza, and Gherman knows he has to save her from this marriage. Perhaps that mysterious story about the cards has something in it that can help him.
A midnight meeting with the Old Countess to gain the secret of the cards goes horribly wrong, and she dies from fear at Gherman’s drawn pistol. Unable to shake the thought of being responsible for her death, the dead Countess comes to him, haunting him with a vision of three cards: the three, the seven, and the ace. He drives himself half-mad repeating these cards and when he wages all of his money on them at the casino that night he loses everything. Instead of an ace, he is holding a queen of spades, and sees only the Old Countess grinning her revenge.
With it’s passionate declarations of love on balconies and tragic double-suicide, this opera could be considered a Russian Romeo and Juliet, but the gothic and supernatural elements, combined with the extremes of passion and obsession perhaps put it closer to Wuthering Heights. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score takes his brother, Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s libretto to the extreme depths and heights of the romance and tragedy and makes this opera one of the most performed Russian operas to date.