Archive for the ‘Gounod’ Category

Faust, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2011

11 December, 2011

The huge power of this performance was the work of the devil.

René Pape as Faust, all images Met Opera Ken Howard

And as Mephistopheles, René Pape was not just vocally superb, but had a stage presence oozing power and devilment. An immensely smooth operator of huge gravitas who could nevertheless move across the stage while lifting a leg as if in a grand jeté, in this well choreographed production by Des McAnuff, which even included some pirouettes in Act II as the chorus sings Et Satan conduit le bal!

After the interval, as Act III starts, Siébel’s soliloquy was beautifully sung by Michèle Losier, both she and Pape repeating their wonderful performances from a different production of Faust this past September in London at the Royal Opera House. Here at the Met they were joined by the incomparable Jonas Kaufmann as Faust, his high notes and diminuendos superbly sung, and his Quel trouble inconnu … in early Act III strongly emotional.

Marguerite and Faust

In Act IV Marina Poplavskaya finally came into her own as Marguerite. In the first interval when interviewed by Joyce Di Donato — an excellent host — she gave the impression that she too had suffered loss. Perhaps this is why she came over so emotionally in Acts IV and V, though I found her less convincing as a simple young girl fascinated by the jewels appearing in Act III. Her singing was beautiful but it was in the later part of the opera that she really convinced me, and her performance was riveting.

Marguerite with the dying Valentin as Siébel looks on

As Act IV came to its conclusion, Russell Braun came through with great effect as Valentin, fighting and losing against Faust, and cursing his sister Marguerite. He sang so strongly, while looking so seriously wounded, you wondered how he did it. Moving into Act V as the chorus sings S’allume et passé un feu qui luit! we see an atomic explosion projected on the backdrop, all part of the production idea that Faust works in a mid-twentieth century laboratory where the nuclear bomb was being designed.

It’s the same production I saw at the English National Opera in September 2010, but with a few tweaks. Care had been given to details and I liked the way a young woman ran across the stage at the start of the big scene in Act III, somehow managing to move in time to the music. Then as the male chorus roared into action it felt as if we were suddenly in a powerful French rendering of the Marseillaise.

Conducting by Yannick Nézet-Séguin was terrific. He brought out the drama in music that can sometimes sound too beautiful and melodramatic, and with an all-star cast this was a glorious performance.

Filming by Barbara Willis Sweete, by the way, was excellent, incorporating occasional full views of the stage with the right amount of detail of the singers.

Performances at the Met continue until January 19 — for details click here.

Faust, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2011

22 September, 2011

Covent Garden has a talent for staging nineteenth century operas in sumptuous productions with excellent singers, and this is another fine example.

Gounod’s Faust, with its libretto by Barbier and Carré based on Carré’s earlier play Faust et Marguerite, is loosely fashioned on Goethe’s great work, though it’s hardly Goethe. David McVicar’s production, with its sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, all superbly lit by Paule Constable, are wonderfully evocative of the period when this 1859 opera was created. It may be high-brow French pantomime, but many of the scenes are very effective, and Gounod produces some excellent orchestration with a lovely melodic line.

After Dmitri Hvorostovsky sang Avant de quitter ces lieux in Act II the second-night audience roared their applause, and we were treated to glorious singing by an all-star cast. After an unconvincing start as a venerable academic, Vittorio Grigolo sang his heart out as the youthfully revived Faust, and literally bounced onto the stage at the end to take curtain calls. His elegant Marguerite, more debutante than village maiden in this opera, was stylishly portrayed and lyrically sung by Angela Gheorghiu. Add to this the beautiful voice of Michèle Losier in the trouser role of Siebel, and the cast gave a wonderful rendition of the vocal roles, superbly grounded by René Pape as the ever present Mephistopheles, his voice and stage presence giving huge depth to the whole performance.

Conducting by Evelino Pidò gave Gounod’s music just what it needs, and if the stage action is a bit melodramatic . . . well that’s what this opera is, but the whole performance is visually appealing and vocally superb.

The production continues until October 10, though with cast changes for Marguerite and Valentin in some later performances — for details click here.

Roméo et Juliette, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

27 October, 2010

When Nino Machaidze sang Juliet’s fourth Act aria, Amour ranime mon courage she rose beautifully to the heights of emotion, and the tension was sustained in Act 5. This is when Romeo finds her in the tomb, drinks poison and she awakes so they can sing together, which they did superbly.

Romeo dies in the Capulet tomb, photo by Bill Cooper

It was a glorious ending, and Ms. Machaidze was obviously delighted with the well-deserved applause, though she had made a wobbly start with Je veux vivre dans ce rêve in Act 1, which expresses Juliet’s desire to remain in her girlish state. It was delivered with a harsh tone and excessive vibrato, more suitable for Tosca than the young Juliet, but in fairness to the singer it was her Covent Garden debut in this role, and she was understandably nervous. Her performance gained strength and subtlety as the evening progressed, and by the end she was terrific. Piotr Beczala as Romeo was inspired throughout. His voice was strong, well-controlled and romantically lyrical, and he seems to have an excellent knack for portraying impassioned young men — in 2009 I admired him as Rodolfo in Boheme at Covent Garden, and Edgardo in the live Lucia broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.

The chorus was very powerful, particularly in Act 3, and the soloists produced excellent support. Ketevan Kemoklidze was wonderful as the Montague page, as was Alfie Boe as Tybalt, and Vitalij Kowaljow was a very fine Frère Laurent. Simon Neal sang strongly in the small part of the Duke, and Darren Jeffery as Capulet and Stephane Degout as Mercutio, portrayed their roles most convincingly. This production by Nicolas Joël, with designs by Carlo Tommasi, gives a sense of power and imperviousness to the Capulet house. What it failed to give was a convincing sense of emotion that might have been helped by concentrating on some small details. For instance Juliet is evidently in a state of distress when being conveyed to the altar, and collapses as she gets close to it, but the priests stood motionless until kneeling. Surely some expression of surprise and concern would not come amiss from the extras playing these roles.

Of course this wedding ceremony is one of several differences from Shakespeare. The libretto by Barbier and Carré is based on the Bard, but takes various liberties, including the ending: a final duet before Juliet kills herself, and no appearance of Paris at the tomb. I prefer Shakespeare, but Gounod’s music is strongly evocative of the drama, and was beautifully conducted by Daniel Oren. He started with enormous bounce, and showed a very gentle style in the right places, particularly the beginning of Act 2 in the garden where Piotr Beczala’s performance of Romeo’s cavatina Ah!  lève-toi, soleil! elicited huge applause and moved the performance into a higher gear.

Further performances are scheduled for October 29 and November 1, 5, 8, 11, 13, 17, with Maria Alejandres as Juliette on November 11 and 17. For more details click here.

Faust, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, September 2010

19 September, 2010

As a university professor who has studied very esoteric subjects I appreciate Faust’s weariness with the ultimate point of his research. His willingness to bring everything to an abrupt end gives the devil a chance to intervene and allow him to recapture a lost youth with a girl he desires, but life and death are never quite that simple.

Melody Moore and Toby Spence as Marguerite and Faust

The main characters in this Gounod opera are Faust, Marguerite and Mephistopheles, and in a pre-performance talk at the Apple Store in Covent Garden someone asked who the main character is. The panel’s consensus was Mephistopheles — the devil has the best tunes, and he’s certainly the operative force in the opera. But in this performance the strongest characters were Toby Spence as Faust and Melody Moore as Marguerite. She sang beautifully with great purity of tone, and in the final scene as she achieves redemption through death her voice took on new power. Toby Spence sang with effortless lyricism, and being an attractive man who looks admirably young, his youthful rejuvenation was very striking. I also particularly liked Anna Grevelius as Faust’s student, Siebel. Mephistopheles was sung by Iain Paterson, whom I have seen perform very well in sympathetic roles such as Amonasro in Aida, and the first lieutenant in Billy Budd, but as the devil he lacked power and menace, and didn’t quite have the lower register that this role requires. Fine diction from all three main performers, though less so from the chorus, and while the orchestra played lyrically under music director Edward Gardner, there seemed a lack of tension and pathos.

This was not helped by Des McAnuff’s new production — a joint venture with the Metropolitan Opera in New York — which had a phantom-of-the-opera feel to it. The necromancy was missing, though the lighting by Peter Mumford was wonderful and the greens and blues in the last scene were very effective. I also loved the choreography by Kelly Devine in Act II, and thought the first two Acts worked well, though the flash paper tricks were a bit naff, and the still projection of a face that suddenly blinked seemed unnecessarily contrived. Overall some lovely singing from Toby Spence and Melody Moore, but I left feeling underwhelmed.

This was the opening night of the new season, and things may catch fire later. Performances continue on September 21, 25, 30, and October 2, 6, 9, 14, 16.