[Met Performance] CID:352680
New Production
La Damnation de Faust {12} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/07/2008., Sirius Broadcast live
Streamed at metopera.org

(Debuts: Robert Lepage, Neilson Vignola, Carl Fillion, Karin Erskine, Sonoyo Nishikawa, Holger Förterer, Boris Firquet, Johanne Madore, Alain Gauthier

Metropolitan Opera House
November 7, 2008 Broadcast/Streamed

New Production


Faust.......................Marcello Giordani
Marguerite..................Susan Graham
Méphistophélès..............John Relyea
Brander.....................Patrick Carfizzi

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

Production..................Robert Lepage [Debut]
Associate Director..........Neilson Vignola [Debut]
Set Designer................Carl Fillion [Debut]
Costume Designer............Karin Erskine [Debut]
Lighting Designer...........Sonoyo Nishikawa [Debut]
Interactive Video Designer..Holger Förterer [Debut]
Image Designer..............Boris Firquet [Debut]
Choreographer...............Johanne Madore [Debut]
Choreographer...............Alain Gauthier [Debut]

La Damnation of Faust received eight performances this season.

The production a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Solomon

Additional funding from the Gramma Fisher Foundation, Marshalltown, Iowa, and Robert L. Turner, in memory of his father, Bert S. Turner

In Collaboration with Ex Machina

The production was reconceived for the Metropolitan Opera and is based on a co-production of the Saito Kinen Festival and the Opéra National de Paris

Broadcast live on Sirius Metropolitan Opera Radio
Streamed at metopera.org

Production photos of La Damnation de Faust by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Review of David J. Baker in the February 2009 issue of Opera News

Robert Lepage's New Met "Damnation de Faust" is an Inventive Take on Berlioz, Saturated With Effects That Are Striking to Behold

Adventurous French-Canadian director Robert Lepage has been staging Berlioz's "Damnation de Faust" here and there since 1999 and has now brought it, with his latest high-tech refinements, to the Met. The production's premiere, on November 7, marked the company's first staged "Damnation" since 1906-07. Advance word hailed Lepage's use of video projections, triggered by tiny microphones and motion sensors, as in Marguerite's aria "D'amour l'ardente flamme," during which a gigantic view of the singer's head was engulfed in fire. The director also employs acrobats in extended poses and arduous stunts.

The result is an inventive take on Berlioz, saturated with effects that are often technically ingenious and striking to behold. Sets (designed by Carl Fillion) morph from library to church, from autumn to winter; doubles of Faust and Marguerite dance underwater, and soldiers in the Hungarian March do a backward goose step for what seems miles. No fewer than five of the acrobats impersonate crucified Christs without moving an inch throughout the entire Easter scene. Human figures, as well as a boat, are doubled by projections that simulate a reflected image.

Yet somehow all these devices remain external to the drama itself. Like a painting with brilliantly executed background and accessories but blank faces, the production often treats the three principals as supporting players. In Goethe's original, the superhuman Mephisto metamorphoses from dog to courtier, but Lepage has the character walk on and off in the most routine ways.

For his rejuvenation, Marcello Giordani as Faust has to exit stage right and then saunter back on, recostumed and unwigged. Karin Erskine's costumes, including white-clad angels in the finale, are conventional and unimaginative. In his feathered cap and red pants, Mephistopheles recalls ancient Met productions of Gounod's warhorse.

In true Regietheater style, the production pursues a counterintuitive bent. Those crucifixes are an odd way to celebrate the Resurrection, changing the subject from rebirth to death. Similarly, the buoyant soldiers' and students' chorus that closes Part II has been rendered as a clumsy antiwar mime involving military corpses. In fact, though, the text here is all about amorous adventures in town, not the perils of war. Forgotten here are the students, the second contingent in Berlioz's contrapuntal march, who can be heard singing their bawdy "Gaudeamus igitur" but are nowhere to be seen.

The main challenge in staging Damnation is to flesh out the character of Faust, to make him more than a witness to all these disparate, discontinuous episodes culled from Goethe. Berlioz himself penned the words of the hero's salute to nature in Part III, which would therefore seem to merit more attention than Lepage gives it.

An avid Berliozian, James Levine compensates with musical characterization in his detailed, sometimes overzealous interpretation of the score. Faust at least sounds Byronic and sensitive, thanks to Levine's support for ardent phrasing by Giordani, whose tenor has regained its allure after signs of discomfort last season. Only the topmost notes in this arduous role sounded awkward. As Marguerite, Susan Graham followed up a cautious, almost pallid "Roi de Thule" with a very assertive love duet in which her high notes truly bloomed, though she and Levine could have done more with Marguerite's reticent admission "Je t'attendais" (I was waiting for you). In the "flame" aria she rendered the mood shifts with an impressive range of vocal coloring.

John Relyea, as Mephistopheles, did the most to project the words. His dark, solid tone suited the role, and if he fell short in an elaborate bel canto phrase, such as his invitation to Faust ("Eh bien it faut me suivre encor"), he sang with temperament and had no problem with the conductor's headlong race through the mocking serenade. In the brief role of Brander, Patrick Carfizzi performed a robust, spry version of the "Rat" solo.

The Met chorus under Donald Palumbo had a great evening in what has been called the leading role in the work. The men's rich, ample sounds in the fugal "Amen" of Part II were matched by artfully interwoven female voices later in the score. Special mention should go to the tenor section, but only by a slim edge.

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