[Met Performance] CID:333330
Doktor Faust {2} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/12/2001.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
January 12, 2001


DOKTOR FAUST [2]

Doktor Faust..............Thomas Hampson
Duchess of Parma..........Katarina Dalayman
Mephistopheles............Robert Brubaker
Duke of Parma.............David Kuebler
Wagner....................Peter Rose
Soldier...................Mark Oswald
Master of Ceremonies......Peter Rose
Lieutenant................Gary Rideout
Theologian................Stephen Morscheck
Jurist....................LeRoy Lehr
Natural Philosopher.......Alfred Walker
Spirit Voice: Gravis......Richard Vernon
Spirit Voice: Levis.......Stephen Morscheck
Spirit Voice: Asmodus.....Kamel Boutros
Spirit Voice: Beelzebub...Mark Schowalter
Spirit Voice: Megäros.....Eric Cutler
Three Students from Cracow: Rafael Suarez, Alfred Walker, Richard Vernon
Three Voices from on High: Andrea Trebnik, Maria Zifchak, Ellen Rabiner
Five Students from Wittenberg: Eric Cutler, Tim Willson, Richard Hobson,
Guy Renard, Bernard Fitch

Conductor.................Philippe Auguin

Production................Peter Mussbach
Set designer..............Erich Wonder
Costume designer..........Andrea Schmidt-Futterer
Lighting designer.........Konrad Lindenberg


Review of John W. Freeman in the April 2001 issue of OPERA NEWS

"Doktor Faust" is unlike any Romantic opera. As Busoni tells it, this story is a downhill journey into disillusionment. The Met's first-ever "Doktor Faust" by Ferruccio Busoni (seen Jan. 12) was a co-production with the Salzburg Festival, which presented it in 1999. At its center stood Thomas Hampson in the title role, a tour de force for the American baritone. Isolated and self-involved this portrayal may have been, but that's how Busoni created his protagonist. In fact, director Peter Mussbach (in his Met debut) conceived the production as a look inside Faust's mind, with the other characters - including Mephistopheles, his doppelgänger or alter ego - as figments of his imagination. Well, perhaps some of them, such as the creditors and the Soldier, had a life of their own, but we still saw them through Faust's eyes.

Hampson showed not only amazing vocal stamina, a sine qua non for this taxing role, but a panoramic range of intensity and nuance, from heedless egoism to defeat and terror, with hints of hypnotic magnetism along the way. One of the role's many challenges is to make it seem credible that Faust could charm the newlywed Duchess of Parma into running away with him.

The world of Faust's inner life, as suggested by Erich Wonder's stage pictures and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's costumes, combined elements of his "real" life as a professor in Wittenberg - carousing students, snowy streets - with elements of fantasy, notably the wedding at Parma, in such a way that neither the mundane nor the fantastic had a distinct end or beginning, but rather both were part of a steady continuum. It seemed natural enough for choristers to appear dressed in evening clothes like members of the audience, or in pantaloons and cylindrical hats like zanies in a commedia dell'arte troupe. Thanks to its coordinated vision, the production made the kind of devices work that hadn't worked in the Met's recent new "Il Trovatore" - an undulating moonscape underfoot, a single enlarged image (here, the eye of Helen of Troy from a master painting), and vague but solid blocklike shapes to suggest a building or an awesome book.

Of course "Doktor Faust" is a sharply different kind of work from "II Trovatore" or any other Romantic opera, and Busoni's peculiarly detached concept of operatic form, as poetic and hieratic theater rather than realism, has its Achilles heel: the audience is going to have trouble getting involved. There's no danger, however, of the sardonic being mistaken for the comic: despite twists of humor, this is a deadly serious parable. Richard Wagner, too, was fond of philosophizing, but he knew how to hook his message onto an absorbing story. As Busoni tells it, Faust's story isn't absorbing; it's a downhill journey into disillusionment. And at the end, when the dying Faust bequeaths his soul to his and the Duchess's dead child, who has been magically resuscitated, the point is too abstruse to come across onstage. It doesn't help that Busoni left the score unfinished. The final pages put together by Philipp Jarnach, though Busonian in sound, lean toward operatic rhetoric, a style Busoni deplored. (Back in Scene 1, just to avoid a conventional love duet, Busoni went the long way around and wrote a solo for the Duchess, generating less dramatic electricity than the give-and-take of a duet would have done.)

In the finale of the Salzburg/Met production, admirable in so many other respects, there is no young man springing up from where the dead child lay, as Busoni specified. Faust simply wanders off into the void. In a previous scene, he had lain on the ground and disappeared into the ground - a coup de theatre that made it seem he had died. When he returned to the stage, with snow on his coat, one had to assume he was now a ghost. The audience might be forgiven for wondering what was going on, and what it was all supposed to mean.

In both viewpoint and structural texture, "Doktor Faust" feels akin to those other maverick operas of the Germanic sphere, Pfitzner's "Palestrina," Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" and Schoenberg's "Moses und Aron." The music is sometimes perplexing, sometimes deceptively familiar in idiom, often haunting in its beauty or expressive power, deliberately anti-operatic in its longueurs and episodic structure. The work exerts a fascination all its own, as the conducting of Philippe Auguin (Met debut) made clear, bringing out the essential mood and color of each scene, whether ironically brisk or serenely glacial. The Met Orchestra, augmented by the house's pipe organ, had a field day with Busoni's sonorities.

In the high-lying coloratura tenor role of Mephistopheles, Robert Brubaker matched and mirrored Hampson's Faust, maneuvering around him like an otherworldly spirit who could read his every thought. Katarina Dalayman's rich, firm soprano gave elegiac contours to the Duchess's lines, while David Kuebler (Duke) and Mark Oswald (Soldier) personified menace. Peter Rose, who doubled as the pompous Master of Ceremonies at the gilded Parma court, created an earthbound, self-satisfied Wagner, the mediocre academic who succeeds Faust as rector of the university. Careful in preparation, timing and lighting (by Konrad Lindenberg), the production boasted an extraordinarily fine supporting cast of students, spirits and what have you.



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