Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

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.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

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 Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

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.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘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.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

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. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

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.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

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.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

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.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

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.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

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.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

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

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.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

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.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

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).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

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’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

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.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Patricia Racette (Marguerite) and Sefano Secco (Faust) [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
08 Jun 2010

Faust in San Francisco

Faust has long since left the French repertory to enter the international repertory, meaning that, like Disneyland, it has been absorbed into diverse cultures where it discovers new resonances.

Charles Gounod: Faust

Faust: Stefano Secco; Marguerite: Patricia Racette; Méphistophélès: John Relyea; Valentin: Brian Mulligan; Siebel: Daniela Mack; Marthe: Catherine Cook; Wagner: Austin Kness. Conductor: Maurizio Benini. Director: Jose Maria Condemi. Production Designer: Robert Perdziola. Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler. Choreographer: Lawrence Pech.

Above: Patricia Racette (Marguerite) and Sefano Secco (Faust) [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

 

The operatic culture at San Francisco Opera is quite Italian these days, explaining maybe why for this montage of Gounod’s 1859 masterpiece the baton was passed to Italian conductor Maurizio Benini and its leading role was entrusted to fine Italian tenor Stefano Secco.

We might have been tempted to think of it as an Italianate montage except that all but one of the rest of its cast were graduates of SFO’s estimable young artist stable, the Adler Fellows, most notably the divissima Patricia Racette as a touching Marguerite, and not too far behind John Relyea as an ultra debonair Méphistophélès. Not to mention soprano Daniela Mack as a right-on Siébel.

Rel_TMC.gifJohn Relyea as Méphistophélès [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

The Adler Fellows is the justifiable pride of San Francisco Opera. Young singers arrive and are transformed into young artists many of whom eventually or even quickly become big stars with extraordinary dimension — well schooled fine voices and well schooled stage comportment. If you were a stage director these artists could be the colleagues of your dreams.

The production (sets and costumes) for this Faust montage came from the San Francisco Opera warehouse where it has been sequestered for fifteen years. The program booklet did not identify an original director, though the scenery and costumes were attributed to Robert Perdziola a veteran of several SFO productions during the Mansouri years. It was a meant-to-be dreary, towering unit set, its painted backdrop even more dreary architecture, scenery reminiscent of all the mistaken reasons Faust is considered a dated old piece that does not resonate with current sensibilities.

Staging of this revival was entrusted to yet another former Adler Fellow (the Adler Fellows occasionally include the odd stage director as well as the usual singers). Argentine born and trained Jose Maria Condemi did his best to make something of all this — like making Faust who we always thought was a philosopher into an anatomy professor. The opera began with four corpses on the stage awaiting dissection, Faust about to become a fifth corpse. But suddenly one of the corpses arose as Méphistophélès who saved the day.

Wagner, current Adler Fellow Austin Kness, was not a student but a soldier, later brought back from battle on a stretcher where, wept upon by his mother, he expired during the rousingly famous Soldiers’ Chorus, meanwhile Valentin, Juilliard trained Brian Mulligan as commanding officer presented flags to distraught wives and mothers of the soldiers who did not return.

RelKne_CW.gifJohn Relyea as Méphistophélès and Austin Kness as Wagner [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

And, uhm, Méphistophélès arrived at the fair (Kermesse) like Pagliacci (in harlequin garb) in his pornography wagon, Marguerite sang her spinning song while operating a huge loom in an eighteenth or some other century sweatshop. Just when you thought Faust was about pretty music it turned out to be about stage business. Mr. Condemi did indeed have many ideas that the singers worked too hard to implement. We soon tired of all those ideas and from all that work and just wanted to hear Gounod’s beautiful music.

But that we did not. Conductor Benini took turgid tempos, confusing Faust’s inherently pretty sentimentalism with hard-hitting verismo. Tenor Stefano Secco, a sensitive actor, did have some very fine moments of quite beautiful singing, never quite suppressing a hint of squillo or the sense that a tenorial sob was out of the question. Mr. Mulligan, the Valentin, quickly created his character in his Avant de quitter as an insensitive, volatile, big voiced personality who had not quite mastered the strut and lurch school of acting. Mme. Racette indulged us with some thrilling diva singing though her persona conveyed heroic distress more than Marguerite’s innocent madness.

The Saturday night audience, the opening night of the spring season, was out for a good time and judging from the applause Méphistophélès succeeded best in making it fun. Bass Baritone John Relyea dominated the stage with a commanding presence, a forceful voice, and lots of colorful costumes. The staging however deprived him of all possibility to exploit the sometimes diabolically sublime music Gounod gave him, in particular his here sarcastic delivery of the meltingly beautiful invocation to darkness Ô nuit, étends sur eux ton ombre.

sword_CW.gifBrian Mulligan as Valentin and John Relyea as Méphistophélès [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

The name of the opera is Faust though it is all about Marguerite who has the great showpiece arias plus the sometimes spine-tingling ascension. But Faust gets the last bow anyway. Though his cad-like behavior on stage had not endeared him to the audience Mr. Secco gracefully accepted his less enthusiastic ovation, knowing that he had made a successful debut in a role that will serve him well in international circles.

Lighting designer Duane Schuler did not take an opening night bow. Mr. Schuler most recently lighted the Peter Stein Tchaikowsky trilogy in Lyon, moving from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):