Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

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):