[Met Performance] CID:351239
New Production
Faust {714} Metropolitan Opera House: 04/21/2005.


Metropolitan Opera House
April 21, 2005
New Production

FAUST {714}

Faust...................Roberto Alagna
Marguerite..............Soile Isokoski
Méphistophélès..........René Pape
Valentin................Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Siebel..................Kristine Jepson
Marthe..................Jane Bunnell
Wagner..................Patrick Carfizzi

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Andrei Serban
Designer................Santo Loquasto
Lighting Designer.......Duane Schuler
Choreographer...........Nikolaus Wolcz

Production a gift of The Sybil B. Harrington Endowment Fund.

Production photos of Faust by Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.

Review of David J. Baker in the June 2005 issue of OPERA NEWS

The Met's new production of "Faust" lays on color, light and action with same zeal that enlivens the splendid musical performance.

The new Metropolitan Opera production of Gounod's "Faust" (premiere, April 21) is remarkable for its unapologetic, indeed celebratory, approach to a work that often inspires producers to apply desperate corrective action. Director Andrei Serban and set and costume designer Santo Loquasto seem unconcerned with inventing new "philosophical" subtexts or cutting back on production values to demonstrate seriousness through austerity.

With applause-winning sets that represent recognizable spaces - Faust's study, Marguerite's garden and the rest - the production lays on color, light and action with the same zeal that enlivens the splendid musical performance.

Stylistic quirks appear, of course. The action moves forward to the nineteenth century; the expressionistic lighting (by Duane Schuler) sometimes bathes the set entirely in diabolical red or other shades. Performers climb over the sets, or are
viewed through gauzy windows, in ways that emphasize the force of the visual on human action.

Serban's fondness for human props - a trait that was even more pronounced in his busy staging of Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" in the house last season - gives us imps, wounded soldiers and, during the "Roi de Thulé," some children who play ball with Marguerite. The only truly unwelcome supernumeraries are the Barbie-doll blond angels who greet the heroine on her heavenward path, a touch as maudlin as it is redundant. A puzzling detail, geographically, is the brandishing of French flags (in Act II) in what seems a very German setting.

More than ever, the opera revolves here around Méphistophélès. Serban and Loquasto provide the fuel in the form of endless antics and disguises; the spark comes from René Pape, in a performance unlike any I have heard him give. Vocally, his German roles tend to find the elegant bass more reserved and subtle; his lieder-like approach as Gurnemanz or King Marke often suggested this was a lyric singer without a strong vocal edge.

The singing here contradicts all that. Fiercely projected, kaleidoscopic high notes combine with his customary sustained phrasing and command of dynamics to burnish the portrait of a protean villain as ubiquitous, tirelessly inventive and versatile as Evil itself. Best of all, perhaps, Papé seems to enjoy his own spectacular performance as much as we do, thereby enriching his Mephisto with the added note of narcissism.

Though well performed, the other roles are predominantly reactive, almost deprived of free will and responsibility. Roberto Alagna's familiar Faust started off with undifferentiated hard-driven timbre but soon gained force as well as flexibility in the garden scene, though he cannot command truly melting beauty of tone in "Salut! demeure chaste et pure." Another Met regular in the cast, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, proved a tightly wound Valentin, sounding somewhat more muted than before in ensembles but excitingly resonant in concluding his [first] aria.

The excellent Soile Isokoski lacks the fine diction the male singers demonstrated. Her jewel song proved that trilling, or in this case not quite trilling, is not everything, given warm, expressive phrasing and a shining top register. She gloried in such challenges as the rapid line cresting on high B in the church scene, but more significantly yet, her cool, responsive timbre served the dramatic demands of the work, making us hear Marguerite's purity as well as her discovery of love and suffering.

The other singers, especially Kristine Jepson as a warm and deliberately ungainly Siébel, maintained a high level of musicianship. James Levine's devoted conducting allowed no trace of inattention or condescension. His prelude was taut and colorful, and he explored interesting effects such as the sly ritards in the devil's serenade. The whole score breathed with musical conviction, reminding us that, though Gounod and his librettists take us quite far from Goethe, their conventional, primary-color "Faust" repays attention of the right kind.

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