Recently in Reviews
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
26 Oct 2009
Pascal Dusapin: Faustus, the Last Night
Pascal Dusapin (b. 1955) is an engaging composer, and his recent works includes a chamber opera entitled Faustus, the Last Night, a unique setting of the legend and a fine contribution to modern opera.
This version of Faust
differs from others, since it eschews the traditional narrative which starts
with Faust signing a pact with the devil, moves to the sometimes picaresque
adventures of the ensorcelled Faust, and ends with the devil claiming his soul.
Instead of retelling the story, Dusapin assembled the English-language libretto
from various sources to create a text focused on the trials and temptations of
Faust during the minutes before his fateful contract with the devil is due. In
a sense Dusapin takes his cue from Marlowe’s climactic soliloquy from
the end of his Tragical History of Doctor Faustus:
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then though must be damned perpetually,
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,That time may cease ad midnight
O lente, lente currite noctis equi!
The stars move still; time runs; the clock will strike;
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned. . . .
(Act 5, lines 57-61; 66-68)
In creating this work, Faust is not necessarily a character worth saving,
with the inanity of his diabolic pact made painfully clear, and Mephistopheles
characterized with the dimensionality which makes him more than a minion of
Satan, but approaching the persona of Lucifer in challenging the nature of
mortal existence. The conversational tone of Faustus, the Last Night may be
traced to the kind of opera Strauss created in Capriccio, in the medium
foregoes the depiction of physical action to result instead in a shift of
thought and concept. (The concept is also used in Henri Pousseu’s
Votre Faust (1969), which revolves around a discussion about the prospect of
an opera on the subject of Faust.) The conversational aspect of
Dusapin’s Faustusalso echoes some elements of early opera, which
resulted in various settings of familiar myth. Akin to those early
seventeenth-century works, music in Faustus serves as a means to an end, a way
for Dusapin to convey the verbal ideas effectively. At times, too, the score
functions as a kind of soundtrack in order to allow the work to shift between
scenes smoothly and offer cues to mood and tone.
The performers as a whole conveyed the work effectively. The
English-language text emerges clearly, and while listeners should not have a
problem with the enunciation, subtitles are possible in the original language,
as well as French and German. Since the libretto is not published with the DVD,
those interested in exploring the text further may use the subtitles as a point
of departure (future DVDs like this would benefit from the inclusion of the
full text in the digital medium, as a matter of convenience for the user). As
Mephistopheles, Urban Malmberg personifies the role. His command of the part is
remarkable and serves as a foil for the doomed Faustus, as depicted by Georg
Nigl. At times Malmberg and Nigl overlap their lines, as found in the score,
and this underscores the blurring of their characters in this work. In
Dusapin’s Faustus, Mephistopheles can be as absorbed in thought as
Faust. In lieu of a stage devil who simply represents the diabolical forces,
Mephistopheles offers some comments which can be as intriguing as the ones
Dusapin puts into Faust’s mouth.
This resembles the interchangeability which occurs in modern productions of
Don Giovanni in the singers who portray the title character and his servant
Leporello sometimes switch their roles between performances. In this sense,
Malberg and Nigl work well together in this work to create a good dynamic, and
the other principals respond well to it. The angel is one of the more engaging
of Dusapin’s characters, and Caroline Stein gave the role the level
of definition to counterbalance Mephistopheles. The other two characters,
Robert Wörle as Sly (derived from the character in the prologue to
Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew) and Jaco Huijpen as Togod offer
various perspectives on the dilemma in which Faust finds himself. Throughout
the performance the conductor Jonathan Stockhammer allows the orchestra to
support the singers deftly. His tempos reflect his sensitivity to the text,
which emerges clearly in an engaging reading of the score for this new version
of the Faust legend.
James L. Zychowicz