Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

19 Feb 2019

Faust in Marseille

We sat, bewildered, all of us, watching (enduring) Gounod’s sweet little tear jerker as a nasty drug trip. Except for the Australian Marguerite it was an all French cast and they all gamely played along, the sophisticated verse of Offenbach’s librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré clearly sailing out over an abrasive pit.

Faust at the Opéra de Marseille

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Nicolas Courjal as Méphistophélès, Mean-Pierre Furlan as the old Faust [all photos copyright Christian Dresse, courtesy of the Opéra de Marseille

 

It was a difficult evening at the Opéra de Marseille, a fine cast in service of a production from the Opéra Grand Avignon where stage director Nadine Duffaut has staged 14 productions over the years for her husband Raymond Duffaut, Avignon Opera’s guiding light since 1977 when he was appointed general director by his father, the then mayor of Avignon.

Opera in the south of France traditionally has been mired in politics, the complexities of which extend to the complicities of the Provençal opera houses. This 2017 Avignon Faust soon travels from Marseille to Nice for performances in May.

Mme. Duffaut is in fact an able metteur en scène. Her 2016 Opéra Grand Avignon production of Katja Kabanova which I saw at the Opéra de Toulon (45 miles from Avignon) proved her to be a meticulous storyteller, Janacek’s turgid tale of the intricacies of family and business coinciding with Mme. Duffaut’s obsession with detail. The Katja Kabanova unfolded in nothing more than a white box, Janacek’s motivic complexities directly objectified by Mme. Duffaut’s actors.

Such was not the case in this much reviled production as seen just now in Marseille. The simple bel canto like dramatic structure of Gounod’s naive story was amplified into a complex, bizarre nightmare that can only be deciphered by Mme. Duffaut. There were actually two Fausts, the old one and the young one. Siebel was not Gounod’s trouser role, instead he was sung by a crippled tenor. There was historical black and white film footage of Valentin’s war that was most likely the Franco-Algerian war. All this to make Gounod’s Faust real.

Faust_Marseille1.pngNicole Car as Marguerite, Jean-Françoise Borras as the young Faust

The chorus however was an abstract mass of masked black and white movement, the Kermesse enlivened by three contortionist acrobats. Marguerite was at first a huge image projected on a full stage scrim, who later became real in a costume that shouted early 1960’s only to become a huge doll (20 feet or so), then to give birth realistically a vista, and finally to become a shaft of light for her salvation.

Mme. Duffaut’s long time collaborator, set designer Emmanuelle Favre provided a huge, architecturally detailed box, with a shadow box within the back wall covered by a painting of Jesus wearing a crown of abundant thorns (Bosch?) behind which the old Faust appeared from time to time (when he wasn’t writhing on the stage floor). There were occasional projections of leaves, branches and flowers. All in all it was not a pretty sight — what you could see of it through the bizarre lighting effected by Philippe Grosperrin.

77 year-old American conductor Lawrence Foster therefore took the opportunity to forgo exploiting the sweetness of Gounod’s trivial sentimentality in search of a deeper, desperate musical response to the nightmare Mme. Duffaut had erected on the stage. What resulted was a strident deconstruction of French Romanticism, revealing an emotionless musical skeleton. If nothing else this approach revealed the Gounod score to be technically daunting, engendering new respect for the often discounted genius of this composer.

Red shoed Nicolas Courjal was the Méphistophélès. This splendid bass reveled in the lighter banter of Gounod’s score, his words tumbling out into the house providing some moments of true delight in this otherwise lugubrious evening. As did vocal meanderings of the beautifully voiced and extremely well sung Faust of tenor Jean-François Borras, far more at home in French than in Italian as Boito’s Faust (Mefistofele) last summer in Orange. Nicole Car’s Marguerite was a vocal extravaganza indeed, but unlike Faust and the devil she did not find character. Étienne Dupuis as well did not find character in his beautifully sung Valentin, though in his case he was musically trounced by the conducting.

Tenor Kévin Amiel was the frustrating Siebel, frustrating because I really needed the mezzo vocal color. The old Faust, Jean-Pierre Furlan gave Faust’s "Rien! En vain j'interroge" in vocal shreds. Marthe, sung by Jeanne-Marie Lévy, sounded mature indeed. Strangely the student Wagner, played by Philippe Ermelier was about 50 years-old.

Bass Nicolas Courjal travels with the production to Nice. Marguerite there will be sung by Nathalie Manfrino of the original Avignon cast. Stefano Secco will be an Italianate Faust. Italian conductor Giuliano Carella (Toulon Opera’s music director) hopefully may provide a starkly different musical atmosphere though the production will remain hopeless.

Nice be warned.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Marguerite: Nicole Car; Marthe: Jeanne-Marie Levy; Faust: Jean-François Borras: Vieux Faust: Jean-Pierre Furlan; Méphistophélès: Nicolas Courjal; Valentin: Étienne Dupuis; Wagner: Philippe Ermelier; Siebel: Kévin Amiel. Orchestre et Chœur de l’Opéra de Marseille. Conductor: Lawrence Foster; Mise en scène: Nadine Duffaut; Décors: Emmanuelle Favre; Costumes: Gérard Audier; Lumières: Philippe Grosperrin. Opera de Marseille, Marseille, France, February 16, 2019.


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):