[Met Performance] CID:247600
Faust {665} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/6/1976.

(Debut: Stuart Sebastian

Metropolitan Opera House
December 6, 1976

FAUST {665}

Faust...................Stuart Burrows
Marguerite..............Jeannette Pilou
Méphistophélès..........Paul Plishka
Valentin................Lenus Carlson
Siebel..................Judith Forst
Marthe..................Shirley Love
Wagner..................Russell Christopher
Dance...................Eugenia Hoeflin
Dance...................Suzanne Laurence
Dance...................Ellen Rievman
Dance...................Jack Hertzog
Dance...................Jeremy Ives
Dance...................Alastair Munro

Conductor...............Georges Prêtre

Production..............Jean-Louis Barrault
Stage Director..........Bodo Igesz
Designer................Jacques Dupont
Choreographer...........Flemming Flindt
Choreographer...........Stuart Sebastian [Debut]

Faust received nine performances this season.

[Flindt did the choreography for the Kermesse, Sebastian for the Walpurgis Night.]

Review of Harriett Johnson in the Post

'Faust' Retains That Cut

Good and evil are not relative in Gounod's "Faust," but last night's performance at the Metropolitan Opera didn't abide by these stringent 16th century precepts. The opera was a mixture of asset and liability in its return to the house for the first time since the 1972-73 season. This time it arrived with a new, pristine ballet for the Walpurgis Night scene for which Gounod wrote his weakest music in the entire opera but which Jean-Louis Barrault, who devised the production in 1965, believed should be retained.

The ballet, together with a portion of a scene with Marguerite at the beginning of Act III, which is usually cut but retained in the Barrault version, elongated the performance until almost midnight. In describing his ideas at the time, Barrault rightly stated that he felt that the kept scene underlined the character of Marguerite's tragedy, then went on to say that "The scandal reaches its paroxysms in the Walpurgis Night." While the new ballet had distinct merit on its own so far as design, use of the limited stage and exploitation of its glamorous leading females - Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Thais - it slowed rather than heightened the dramatic impact of Marguerite's denouement after her betrayal by Faust, her madness and her ultimate salvation.

The veterans last night were Georges Pretre who had conducted the Sept. 27th 1965 premiere which opened the final season in the Met's old house, and also baritone Russell Christopher who sang the minor part of Wagner. Newcomers to their roles at the Met were tenor Stuart Burrows in the title role; Lenus Carlson as a vibrant, masculine Valentin, Marguerite's brother; and bass-baritone Paul Plishka, a fleshy Mephistopheles, made more prominently so by a badly fitting costume in which he split himself at the seams.

Pilou the Star

The star - until she came to the magnificent, final trio when she couldn't muster enough volume and full brilliance to lead the music as the soprano must - was "French (sic)" soprano Jeannette Pilou. Miss Pilou is a charming artist with a lovely voice of sheen and sweetness which she handles very well as pure vocalism but which goes far beyond this in expressiveness. When Miss Pilou was on stage - whether she was being seduced by Faust or seeking Heaven apart from him - she was an absorbing artist to hear and to observe. Her phrasing had style and pungency. It communicated. We identified with her as Marguerite and believed in her. She has the petite figure and poignant face for the role.

As for Pretre - who erred on the side of too much virtue - we think he might contemplate the poles of God and Satan and balance his scales a bit differently. Barrault at one point quotes Baudelaire in describing these powers as equally forceful: "The desire to rise, confronting the joy of falling." Pretre demonstrated many musical virtues and the letter of the style, but didn't penetrate its inner secrets. The music became strong rhythmically but it didn't bound with vitality and imagination. The final trio lacked instrumental drive and tension. If Miss Pilou, who appeared tired, had had more inspiration from the pit, she might have summoned hidden resources to allow her to rise to the occasion.

Burrows, a refined artist with a superior, well produced voice, is however, not an ideal Faust. He lacks Nicolai Gedda's natural elegance and flair (Gedda sang the '65 premiere) while his high voice allowed, at least on this occasion, only a cautious high C in his "Salut! demeure chaste et pure." Gedda is probably the best Faust singing today and comparisons are futile. But Burrows, who can be elegant in other roles, was not at ease in this one. He is robust enough to be, by figure, Plishka's satellite, which is hardly the similarity Goethe, Gounod or Barrault intended for Mephisto and his trainee. Burrows simply didn't project the dashing personality or exciting high voice necessary to suggest the young, transformed Faust.

The famous Soldier's Chorus aroused the most militant reaction from the audience as the men sang enthusiastically of their patriotic sentiments but simultaneously rang out their pleasure at being home. Except for this number, however, the chorus was not often well defined, rhythmically or melodically. Carlson's handsome presence and virile voice made a memorable personality of Valentin. Judith Forst as Siebel sang and acted exceptionally well. Siebel's high tessitura posed no problem; her B flat was brilliant and easy as a soprano's. Shirley Love was Marthe.

Plishka's beautiful, warm, well produced basso doesn't lend itself by nature to the sardonic ring necessary for a convincing Mephistopheles. There are many ways to do a role and Plishka's interpretation, now only embryonic, may become valid. He is amusing and physically lithe and powerful, but in its present stage his concept has more of the old vaudeville magician in it than the diabolically intellectual power which bent only before the appearance of the Cross. Costumes and sets, the latter varying between realistic and surreal, are by Jacques Dupont. Flemming Flindt choreographed the Kermesse scene. The next "Faust" is Friday with the same cast and conductor.

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