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 Performances

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.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ailyn Pérez as Marguerite and Bryan Hymel as Faust [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
10 Sep 2011

Santa Fe Faust — Revisited

The distinguished soprano Patricia Racette once advised this observer, “If you are coming to the opera to review me, please attend the latest performance you can.” I knew what she meant.

Santa Fe Faust — Revisited

By James A. Van Sant

Above: Ailyn Pérez as Marguerite and Bryan Hymel as Faust [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]

 

Often over a run of performances, a production and the fit of singers into their roles will mature into an organic whole that eclipses earlier performances. We saw this closing night August 27 with Santa Fe Opera’s lavish production of the Gounod masterwork, Faust. It was from the first a good show — at times more ‘show’ than opera — but by the close of its run of nine performances, it was an artistic whole that proved a well-rationalized way of presenting an 1859 operatic hit to a 2011 popular audience.

Admittedly, it is hard to accept Santa Fe’s staging of Act I that had Faust still a grizzled old man when he was wheeled off stage at the end of his transformation scene. Gounod, in both direction and music, makes it clear Faust is to regain his youth, due to a deal with the devil and Méphisto’s magic, right on stage — the audience seeing him sing the second verse of his duet with Méphisto as a virile young man. Changing that through stage direction proved pointless, a silly notion of English powerhouse theatrical producer Stephen Lawless — but this talented world-class director did so many other right things for Santa Fe’s presentation, it is hard to feel anything but admiration for his work, and that of musical director Frédéric Chaslin, for between them, and with Santa Fe’s deep pockets, they produced a memorable evening of music theatre worthy of its venerable subject.

True, in many ways the production was re-set or changed, yet it caught the 19th Century spirit of Gounod’s masterpiece and made the most of it. Tenor Bryan Hymel in the title role sang the full run with poise and assurance, his brilliant top range conquering every high-B and C, with a few extras thrown in. He proved a stalwart over a long and demanding assignment. The Méphistophélès of Mark S. Doss, earlier in the season a bit hard to hear, perhaps a bit under-powered, by late August was on top of every aspect of his famous role. The voice was fine, the playing better than ever — and as usual the Devil was the audience favorite — it was ever thus for the Fallen Angel! The key role of Valentin was assumed in August by baritone Christopher Magiera, new to Santa Fe and an experienced and competent performer. Ideally, one wants to hear a more sonorous voice in this big role, yet Magiera’s smooth lyric voice and musical taste met most demands; one could relax with this Valentin and enjoy his music.

On the ladies’ side all was much as before, and again Ailyn Perèz was a Marguerite of great beauty and stage worthiness. She is an enchanting creature in her role of the girlish young woman seduced into tragedy. With three performances in seven days of a demanding role, a ‘big sing’ by any measure, the soprano on closing night seemed frankly tired. Early on her rich voice had color and point, her diction better than before, but by the end, she was close to the edge, her Trio B-naturals uneasy. Perez is a major voice; she well knows how to use it and how to inhabit a role, but she is still young and there is work to be done. There is much to be anticipated from this Chicago-born lyric soprano.

Last but foremost, the French conductor Frédéric Chaslin, serving now as Santa Fe Opera’s music director and chief conductor, proved the master of his domain. He had the orchestra honed to a fine point, all was in place, with shape and nuance lavished upon the familiar score that revitalized it and brought forth the impressive talents of the SFO Orchestra. Reports from the orchestra confirm high morale and eagerness to perform with this music master. I trust we may look forward to more French repertory under Chaslin, a former Santa Fe weak spot that is no longer a problem.

There had been rumors over the summer that the Opera would shorten the production, perhaps dropping the Parade of Courtesans scene, which offered much of the familiar Faust ballet music, if little classic ballet. Instead, each of the demi- mondaines — Salome, Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Dalila, Manon and Carmen — offered her moments of temptation for the bedazzled young Faust, with plenty of effective choreographed movement (by Nicola Bowie), and sometimes humor. After twenty-minutes or so of such business, we were taken on to more serious matters; but the interval had served its purpose and reminded one how important dance and diversion are in 19th C. French opera. One had especially to appreciate the creativity of costumer Sue Willmington, scenic designer Benoit Dugardyn and the unusually effective lighting provided by Pat Collins. There was much to see, almost more than could be grasped in one viewing.

On the matter of the evening’s length, three-hours and more can be a trial for an audience seated semi-outdoors in a high-mountain environment. But, I did not notice any empty seats after the intermission, and applause and cheering at the final calls were substantial. Santa Fe’s Faust was a big production of a big opera that is not always accorded a company’s full forces these days; this time, Faust got what it deserved and Charles MacKay’s opera company showed, most impressively, what they can do if they really try. Well done!

In season 2012, two rarities, Rossini’s Maometto II and Szymanowski’s King Roger will be featured. If given the measure of quality provided Faust (and Menotti’s Last Savage) in the recent run, they should be well worth experiencing.

James A. Van Sant © 2011

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):