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

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite and Jonas Kaufmann as Faust [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]
02 Dec 2011

Faust, Metropolitan Opera

At one point in The Met’s history, Faust was performed so frequently that one critic in mocking reference to Wagner’s opera house at Bayreuth coined the theater Faustophilhaus.

Charles Gounod: Faust

Marguerite: Marina Poplavskaya; Siébel: Michele Losier; Faust: Jonas Kaufmann; Valentin: Russell Braun; Méphistophélès: René Pape. The Metropolitan Opera. Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Above: Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite and Jonas Kaufmann as Faust

Photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

 

Currently, what was once Gounod’s most popular opera is now rarely performed at The Metropolitan Opera. With any luck, that is all about to change. On Tuesday, November 29th, The Met unfurled its first new production of Faust in quite some time. Despite some nerve wracking press in regards to the vision of its director, Des McAnuff, this production, which features a star-studded and extremely talented cast, put a modern face on a tried and true repertory staple. Despite occasional flaws, I hope to see this opera presented more often.

Faust_Met_2011_02.pngJonas Kaufmann as Faust and René Pape as Méphistophélès

The orchestra was led adroitly by Yanick Nézet-Séguin. Given the current turmoil surrounding the orchestra and the fate of its beloved conductor, James Levine, it was a joy to see that the ensemble was still capable of performing with the artistry that Levine has so meticulously instilled in the players. Nézet-Séquin made his debut a few years ago conducting the debut of Richard Eyre’s production of Carmen. Those performances showcased his penchant for extracting the quintessentially French qualities of French opera. It was wonderful to experience his ability to bring out the same qualities in Faust. His reading was replete with tension, passion, and lyricism; in short, everything needed to show the brilliance of this opera when performed at its best.

The stellar cast was headed by Jonas Kaufmann. This tenor, who has made a name for himself in French, German, and Italian repertoire, is still riding on the heels of his success in last year’s run of Tosca. The applause that occurred in the second act of Tosca at his cry of “Victoria, Victoria”, was an event never before seen at The Met that has reached something of a fabled status. A similar event occurred during Faust, after he sang his Act II show piece; he received not only the traditional mix of bravos and applause, but also hooting and hollering. As someone who has experienced countless operas, this overwhelming crowd reaction was a first for me. And it was heartwarming to behold. Needless to say, such a reaction was warranted in every sense of the word. His rendition of the aria showcased his adept management of dynamics. In addition, he is the vilest Faust I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. For instance, at the end of the fairground scene, which comprises the first meeting of Faust and Marguerite, he forced himself into a waltz with Marguerite despite the fact that she had just moments ago declined his flattery. Such a contrast between Marguerite’s innocence and Faust’s cruelty elevated the relationship of the two characters to that of Don Giovanni and Donna Elvira. In the Act III love duet, when faced with Marguerite’s initial refusal, he forcefully tackled her to the ground. Needless to say, his strong acting was married perfectly to his masterful singing.

Faust_Met_2011_03.pngMichèle Losier as Siebel

Since her debut as Liu in Turandot, Marina Poplavskaya has created an impressive list of new Met productions. Now Faust joins Willy Decker’s Traviata, and Nicholas Hytner’s Don Carlo. Despite the split press for these two productions, she was ideally suited for Marguerite. Her rendition was replete with the innocence and naivety of the character as previously epitomized by Victoria de Los Angeles. However, unlike the great Diva, Poplavskaya’s Marguerite had the hint of a narcissistic teenager floating just below the surface. The way she played with her sweater and her hair during the ballad of the King of Thule suggested that she knew that men could find her attractive but was trying not to admit this to herself. Additionally, her capable physical acting came into focus in the second half of the opera when she was pregnant with Faust’s child.

René Pape who played Mephistopheles is a consummate performer. His work as the lead in last year’s production of Boris Godunov was dynamic in every sense of the word. His performance meshed the evil and comic aspects of the character beautifully. He was able to give a thrilling performance of “Le Veau D’Or”, while at the same time doing enacting a tap dance routine during his serenade to Marguerite.

Other noteworthy performers include Michele Losier whose Siébel was appropriately naïve. Russell Braun gave a stirring portrayal of Valentin. His first act aria was intensely the prayer it should be. Also, his dying curse on Marguerite was all the more heart wrenching because it was obvious that despite his words, he still loved his sister. As Martha, Wendy White showcased her comic talents to a marvelous degree.

Faust_Met_2011_05.pngRussel Braun as Valentin and Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite

This production was directed by Des McAnuff, whose credits include Jersey Boys as well as the movie Rocky and Bullwinkle. He desired to set the opera in the post atomic age. The beginning was to take place shortly after the detonation of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The production would then go back to Faust’s youth around the time of World War I and then slowly makes its return to the present. McAnuff’s goal was to allow Faust to examine where humanity went wrong and why the atomic bomb was dropped over Japan. This was slightly misguided. While appropriate to other settings of the Faust legend, such as the play, Dr. Faustis, by Christopher Marlow, emphasizing the atomic bomb would eschew Faust’s relationship with Marguerite which is the focus of the opera. Ironically, this production should be lauded for what it did not achieve. The atomic bomb was present in frequent flashes of light as well as an image of a mushroom cloud which began the Black Sabbath. But these instances were trivial, and the mushroom cloud could have been easily construed as a puff of smoke billowing out of a witch’s cauldron. Thankfully, for the sake of the opera, Marguerite remained the focal point. If anything, due to the use of a curtain during intermission which displayed changing images of Marguerite, her position in the opera was intensified. Like other recent operas, such as Rossini’s Armida, Faust contains a substantial amount of magic. Mr. McAnuff can congratulate himself for keeping the mystery and the magic alive.

Another significant innovation of this production was its portrayal of Mephistopheles as an extension of Faust’s character. This harkens back to the line in the original German play in which Faust in conversation with his student, Wagner, refers to himself as having two personalities. He says “you know one, may you never know the other”. Unfortunately, McAnuff’s decision to portray the whole opera as Faust’s fantasy after he had poisoned himself is problematic. To begin with, Faust is a two part drama. Although the second part is never alluded to within the course of Gounod’s opera, based on the inherent villainy of Kaufman’s, I would be willing to bet that if given the opportunity to live, to experience more debauchery, he would easily avoid dying. Secondly, the fact that the action of the opera was portrayed as Faust’s fantasy as conjured up by Mephistopheles created incongruences in the stage action. True, everything in this opera is an extension of Faust’s fantasy as made possible by Mephistopheles, but Faust has to be able to participate in that fantasy. At times he was not able to. Also, the action of the opera took place within Faust’s laboratory. While colorful, dreamlike scenery was introduced after the first act, until the end of the fairgrounds scene, the set was sparse and monochromatic. Lastly, the unidimensional nature of the rather bare set did not help the singers to project to the back of the theater. This was at times evident in Kaufman’s performance.

This production by McAnuff showed every aspect Faust from the music to the story in its best light. Despite occasional blemishes, the opera which opened the Met in 1893 has a made a triumphant return.

Gregory Moomjy

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):