In early 2000, Green Ginger were approached by director Richard Jones who was staging Tchaikovsky’s epic tale of gambling and lost love for Welsh National Opera. Jones was keen to investigate how puppetry might be introduced into certain scenes and we worked closely with him and designer John MacFarlane to devise what would become bold and memorable staging solutions. The Act 2 Pastorale scene, written by Tchaikovsky for the ballet corps attached to the large opera houses of late 19th century Russia, is nowadays often cut for budgetary reasons. Jones was keen to retain it and use puppetry to put a twist on the unfolding narrative. Green Ginger’s performers opearted delicate bunraku-style puppets upon a huge gambling table with both prinicpal singers and chorus members woven into the action.

MacFarlane designed a trompe l’oeil bedroom set for the opening of Act 3; the audience were given a ‘fly on the ceiling’ view of a bed in which the main character tossed and turned feverishly before a huge skeleton rose up through the bedsheets to appear beside him.

Images above courtesy of Clive Barda (WNO) and Johan Jacobs (La Monnaie)

WNO’s Queen of Spades went on to win the Barclays TMA and Royal Philharmonic Society awards for best opera production and was The Times critics’ pick for Opera of the Year in 2000. Over the next 15 years, the production was revived in Bologna, Oslo, Rome, Brussels, San Francisco, Houston and Toronto; each time Green Ginger travelled to oversee the puppetry, either with a team of highly experienced UK-based performers or casting and training up a team of puppeteers in the host city.

Green Ginger is currently in negotiations with another major North American opera house with a view to another revival of this stunning production in 2020. More updates to follow…


Puppetry in Opera was a three day conference in 2012, co-ordinated by Puppet Centre Trust, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and the Barbican. The London based event brought together opera and puppetry practitioners to explore common ground and intersections in practice. Green Ginger’s Chris Pirie was invited to be paired with opera director Bill Bankes-Jones in a workshop exploring approaches to performance where breath is a primary focus.

Three opera singers manipulate and give voice to their own puppet that was rapidly built from trash.