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

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

Works by Beethoven and Gerald Barry

As a whole, this concert proved a curious affair. It probably made more sense in the context of Thomas Adès’s series of Beethoven and Barry concerts with the Britten Sinfonia. The idea of a night off from the symphonic Beethoven to turn to chamber works was, in principle, a good one, but the sole Gerald Barry piece here seemed oddly out of place – and not in a productive, provocative way. Even the Beethoven pieces did not really seem to fit together especially well. A lovely performance of the op.16 Quintet nevertheless made the evening worthwhile.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Benjamin Bernheim [Photo © Cory Weaver]
30 Mar 2018

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Benjamin Bernheim [Photo © Cory Weaver]

 

The role of Marguerite is sung by Aylin Pérez and that of her brother Valentin by Edward Parks. Siébel is performed by Annie Rosen, Marthe by Jill Grove, and Wagner is Emmett O’Hanlon. The performances are conducted by Emmanuel Villaume and the Lyric Opera Chorus is prepared by its Chorus Master Michael Black. This new production of Faust is designed by John Frame and directed by Kevin Newbury. Sets and costumes are designed by Vita Tzykun, projected imagery is designed by David Adam Moore, lighting by Duane Schuler, and wigs and makeup by Sarah Hatten.

The predominantly dark stage in the opening scene depicts a workroom or studio, interior windows are covered with drapes while ladders are placed near these channels to the exterior world. A small screen shows a video projection. As light begins to pervade the studio, a scrim rises, and attention is focused on the doddering movements of an elderly man. His resigned words beginning with “Rien” (“Nothing”) express dissatisfaction with an oppressive existence. Mr. Bernheims’ monologue continues with an impassioned statement on the vanity of Faust’s efforts until now. While applying a constant volume in vocal projection, Bernheim colors distinctly individual words, “Salut” and “destin,” by which Faust “greets” his purported final day when he plans to take poison and master his “destiny.” In response to Faust’s doubt in God’s help and his repeated curses, Bernheim’s final evocation forte to “Satan! à moi!” brings Méphistophélès out from behind a draped window. Mr. Van Horn’s entrance establishes this Satan as a master of all situations: his cool control and unyielding intrusion into the dramatic progression make him here a force that cannot be shut off. From the start, Van Horn’s supple voice lends even greater credibility to his characterization of the demonic force in nature. His performance throughout shows a remarkable command and ability to adapt his voice to varying dramatic needs. Van Horn’s emphasis here on “puissance” (“power”) is countered by Bernheim’s insistence on “la jeunesse” (“youth”) as a goal. Two innovations of this productions support the dramatic flow at this point and again in subsequent acts. The video projection of a woman moving through a natural setting captures Faust’s thoughts and desires of the moment. Once he commits his signature guaranteeing future service to Méphistophélès, Faust drinks the potion of youth and is transformed by a band of masked minions who appear henceforth in this production at strategic moments to carry out the devil’s bidding. “En route” (“Let us away”) is taken as a journey of discovery for Faust with Méphistophélès leading the path immediately into the public space and tavern starting in Act Two.

The drinking song is performed by a chorus dressed now in nineteenth-century garb; gradually soldiers wearing French uniforms from the time of Gounod drift onto the scene. At the entrance of Valentin attention is focused on the supervision of Marguerite during the brother’s forthcoming military absence. Mr. Parks performs the signature aria “Avant de quitter ces lieux” (“Before departing thee lands”) with a soldierly tone, while expressing lyrical warmth primarily in the middle section of the piece. His confrontation with Méphistophélès is facilitated by the masked assistants pushing stage center the table onto which the devil climbs to sing “Le veau d’or” (“The calf of gold”). Van Horn’s crisp intonation of the melodic line and his exciting delivery of the final verse, “Et Satan conduit le bal” (“And Satan leads the ball”) characterizes the unflagging power of this demonic force. During this first, extended scene of the act Faust lurks about and wanders among the citizens, students, and soldiers assembled, as though reinforcing Mr. Newbury’s program comments that “the whole story is in Faust’s imagination.” Once he reenters vocally in keeping with Gounod’s score, the protagonist persists in reminding Méphistophélès of his promise. As the crowd separates, Marguerite appears here in a solitary, seated pose. Ms. Pérez rebuffs Faust’s offer “pour faire le chemin” (“to escort you on your way”) with understated yet thoughtfully intoned lines. Once she is spirited away with the intercession of the minions, Bernheim declares fortissimo his affection for Marguerite. A stylized, projected image of Faust appears on the stage rear wall at the close.

Such emphasis on demonic control continues into the central Act Three. Through a scrim, village trees are gradually visible during the entr’acte as well as Van Horn’s Méphistophélès posed in contemplation with a lit cigarette. In delivering Siébel’s couplets of a lovelorn suitor’s devotion Ms. Rosen pours out cascades of sincere emotion while addressing the flowers to be left for Marguerite. Rosen’s attention to key lines and application of rubato communicate her character’s pivotal attempts to shield the heroine with innocent love. The final “doux baiser” (“tender kiss”) which Siébel hopes to send via the flowers is held by Rosen with an achingly extended pitch. Faust’s approach to Marguerite’s dwelling is, likewise, accompanied by his cavatina praising nature for its formation of Marguerite. Bernheim’s slightly nasal, reedy voice caresses the individual lines as he credits “Nature” for having developed this ideal. The repetition of “Salut” and Bernheim’s panegyric to Marguerite’s beauty is accomplished with seamless legato and shifts in color to indicate emotional intensity. During and after the iconic aria this production’s external visualization of a character’s feelings is displayed to good effect just as an image of large, colorful lilies is projected onto the stage, while Bernheim concludes with a sustained note Faust’s outpouring of devotion. Almost immediately the Satanic helpers bring a box of jewels and place it at a strategic locale near Marguerite’s dwelling. This cottage appears raised on stilts so that the helpers can crawl beneath the house and indicate their watchful temptation. In her performance of the “Roi de Thulé” Pérez sings with an introspective, wistful tone to capture the king’s fond memory of his departed wife. Her exquisite piano phrasing at the close forms a transition to the startled reaction of finding the box. Pérez begins the “Jewel Song” indeed softly with enthusiasm and vocal decoration building after she tries on a pair of earrings. This curiosity increases as one of Satan’s helpers emerges to hold up a mirror and thereby tempt Marguerite even further. The following quartet of Marthe and Méphistophélès, Marguerite and Faust is cleverly staged, so that the interests of both couples remain constant while they continue to perform from different focal points. Ms. Grove shines in the cameo tole of Marthe with both her singing and acting contributing comic relief and a motivation to further the plot. Yet the ultimate prod is here Méphistophélès, at whose urging Faust is now pushed by the minions into the arms of Marguerite.

The scenes of progressive emotional starkness in the remaining parts of the opera present Marguerite first with a callous Faust, then alone, and next as a penitent in church. In this latter scene the lighting on the stage rear suggests a religious interior when Marguerite sits on a bench. Positioned next to her, and clearly plaguing her conscience as symbol, Méphistophélès’s ringing statements accelerate as the orchestral volume swells. At the same time the lighting through a mock window now resembles the flames of hell. The chilling determination unleashed by Van Horn’s performance in this scene in church epitomizes the dramatic power communicated by this superb singer and actor. His facial expression etches a relentless force which dominates through to the inevitable conclusion. Marguerite’s faith will save her as declared, but Faust must pay for his transgressions. As an ironic reminder in the final scene of the opera in this production, Faust dons one of the sculpted masks to follow the others as henceforth one of the band of Méphistophélès.

Salvatore Calomino

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):