New York Post, November 30, 2011
James Jorden
Gounod: Faust, Metropolitan Opera New York, 29. November 2011
A not so feisty ‘Faust’
An atomic explosion kicked off the last act of Gounod’s “Faust” Tuesday at the Met, but the production as a whole was more dud than bomb.

This sentimental French melodrama about an elderly scientist trading his soul for youth is a tough sell for modern audiences who don’t buy into its Victorian vision of heaven and hell. For this, his Met debut, “Jersey Boys” director Des McAnuff updated the action to the 20th century, with Faust as a 1950s nuclear physicist who yearns for the good old days ... of World War I?

On Robert Brill’s single set of ugly scaffolding, the action looked confused and random, surrounded by pointless distractions like jitterbugging burn victims and video projections out of a heavy-metal arena show.

Better to ignore the visuals and concentrate on the musical performance, which even by Met standards was terrific. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin energized the score with brisk tempos and radiant color, daring even a touch of vulgarity in the brassy “Soldier’s Chorus.”

As Faust, Jonas Kaufmann showed once again that he can sing just about any tenor part better than just about anyone else in the opera world. He flooded the lyric lines with dark, throbbing tone, surging to a secure high C in his “Salut! Demeure” aria.

Even stronger was René Pape as the satanic Mephistopheles, a slight snarl brightening his rich bass-baritone so it hurtled into the vast Met auditorium like a cannonball.

Their performances were all about the singing: Kaufmann acted with his profile, and Pape’s deviltry amounted to a little soft-shoe choreography during his arias. In contrast, as the doomed Marguerite, Marina Poplavskaya etched a chilling portrait of betrayed innocence — tragic without a trace of sentimentality.

Her voice, more efficient than beautiful, rang out with authority until she tired in the last act. In the prison trio, just at the point her soprano needed to soar, it imploded, reducing her high notes to ugly yowls.

Generically pretty singing from baritone Russell Braun as Marguerite’s brother Valentin and mezzo Michèle Losier as the lovelorn boy Siebel won them both warm ovations. But it was Poplavskaya, shaky vocalism and all, who brought this “Faust” to life.


 back top