Faust, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2011Posted on 11 December 2011
The huge power of this performance was the work of the devil.
And as Mephistopheles, René Pape was not just vocally superb, but had a stage presence oozing power and devilment. An immensely smooth operator of huge gravitas who could nevertheless move across the stage while lifting a leg as if in a grand jeté, in this well choreographed production by Des McAnuff, which even included some pirouettes in Act II as the chorus sings Et Satan conduit le bal!
After the interval, as Act III starts, Siébel’s soliloquy was beautifully sung by Michèle Losier, both she and Pape repeating their wonderful performances from a different production of Faust this past September in London at the Royal Opera House. Here at the Met they were joined by the incomparable Jonas Kaufmann as Faust, his high notes and diminuendos superbly sung, and his Quel trouble inconnu … in early Act III strongly emotional.
In Act IV Marina Poplavskaya finally came into her own as Marguerite. In the first interval when interviewed by Joyce Di Donato — an excellent host — she gave the impression that she too had suffered loss. Perhaps this is why she came over so emotionally in Acts IV and V, though I found her less convincing as a simple young girl fascinated by the jewels appearing in Act III. Her singing was beautiful but it was in the later part of the opera that she really convinced me, and her performance was riveting.
As Act IV came to its conclusion, Russell Braun came through with great effect as Valentin, fighting and losing against Faust, and cursing his sister Marguerite. He sang so strongly, while looking so seriously wounded, you wondered how he did it. Moving into Act V as the chorus sings S’allume et passé un feu qui luit! we see an atomic explosion projected on the backdrop, all part of the production idea that Faust works in a mid-twentieth century laboratory where the nuclear bomb was being designed.
It’s the same production I saw at the English National Opera in September 2010, but with a few tweaks. Care had been given to details and I liked the way a young woman ran across the stage at the start of the big scene in Act III, somehow managing to move in time to the music. Then as the male chorus roared into action it felt as if we were suddenly in a powerful French rendering of the Marseillaise.
Conducting by Yannick Nézet-Séguin was terrific. He brought out the drama in music that can sometimes sound too beautiful and melodramatic, and with an all-star cast this was a glorious performance.
Filming by Barbara Willis Sweete, by the way, was excellent, incorporating occasional full views of the stage with the right amount of detail of the singers.
Performances at the Met continue until January 19 — for details click here.