Examiner.com, December 12, 2011
Melanie O'Neill
Gounod: Faust, Metropolitan Opera New York, ab 29. November 2011, Vorstellung am 10. Dezember 2011, Kino
Gounod's Faust via Fathom Events' MET Live in HD Series
Gounod’s Faust, which has thrilled MET audiences since Opera House’s very first performance in 1883, made a comeback today in Des McAnuff’s updated production. Set in the period between the two world wars, Faust is a nuclear physicist who is involved in developing the atomic bomb. The performance was conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin and lead by tenor Jonas Kaufmann, bass Rene Pape, and soprano Marina Poplavskaya.

In the title role of Faust, Jonas Kaufmann was most engaging when singing with his colleagues. His opening scene and solo singing tended to be uninspired and emotionally drained; however, in conjunction with Pape and Poplavskaya in Acts II and III particularly, his character came to life. Vocally, Kaufmann was consistently strong. His characteristically dark, warm voice was particularly effective in adding to the seductive tone; it softens the impact of Faust’s ardent advances. At times, when Kaufmann would diminuendo, or sing piano in his higher range his voice became distorted and sounded very forced. When singing in full voice, both Kaufmann’s lower and higher registers were smooth and commanding.

Poplavskaya played the role of innocent Marguerite with touching sincerity. Her light, sweet tone emphasized Marguerite’s youth and naivety throughout Faust’s seduction. Poplavskaya’s Marguerite shows true modesty and fear at Faust’s aggressive advances. Her elegant rendition of the “Jewel Song,” rather than casting Marguerite in a vain light as it sometimes does, brought out her naivety and the simplicity of the life she is accustomed to. Poplavskaya’s transformation between acts III and IV, and even IV and V, were particularly impressive. The trembling Marguerite in Act V, with short dirty hair and a glazed, lost look in her eyes, inspired more than just sympathy in the listeners’ hearts, but also a degree of fear. Poplavskaya makes Marguerite more than a pathetic wreck at the end of the opera; she turns her into someone who, despite her loss of sanity, is confident in her perceptions of evil. The intensity Poplavskaya brought to the final act made up for Kaufmann’s acting in the last scene, which had been reduced to absentmindedly wandering the stage singing his lines.

One of the most gripping scenes of the performance was the juxtaposition of Marguerite and Mephisto, played by Rene Pape, in the pews of a church. As Marguerite begs for mercy and forgiveness in the warm light of the church, Mephisto sits in the next pew over, shrouded in cold blue light. The entrance of the organ, generally used in sacred music, brings with it, rather, a sinister color as Mephisto begins to terrorize Marguerite with thoughts of eternal hell. Mephisto, who Pape introduces as a comic and quite charming, also makes a metamorphosis after the third act. From start to finish, Pape’s singing and acting by far the highlight of the night. His intonation was spot on throughout the opera and his tone always beautiful, but still expressive and menacing.

In the smaller role of Valentin, Russell Braun drew quite an ovation. His bright voice and perfectly even vibrato dazzled the audience during his limited stage time. His fervent curse of Marguerite was not chilling, but rather, boiling with passion and rage. Michele Losier, in the pant role of Siebel, was a sympathetic character and sang with a crisp, clear voice. The set, although not thrilling, was not a disaster either. During the choral numbers the chorus could hardly cram themselves onto the stage, making the action a little chaotic to watch, but otherwise the open stage kept the focus on the characters.


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