Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite and Joseph Calleja Faust.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Reviewed by James Karas
The Metropolitan Opera has a new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust directed by Des McAnuff, the Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It is an interesting staging, well sung, but lacking much cohesion in vision or presentation.
Before the curtain goes up we see the projection of a large, black and white, image of a dour-looking Faust (Joseph Calleja). When the curtain rises we see some white girders on both sides of the stage with raised platforms on each side. There is a couple of winding staircases that rise to the top of the stage. That is the set by designer Robert Brill.
We are supposed to be in Faust’s study where the distraught scientist is contemplating suicide. As he is about to drink some poison, we hear a chorus of women and labourers outside. McAnuff dresses the chorus in white lab coats and they appear in Faust’s “study”.
Mephistopheles saunters in, sword on his side, feather in his cap, a cloak over his shoulder. Well, that’s what the libretto says. In this production he is wearing a Panama hat and a white suit, and he looks like a debonair gentleman in a sunny climate. He will change into a dark suit as will Faust and the two protagonists will look like a couple of men about town trying to get lucky with women.
The real deal is somewhat different, I would argue. Mephistopheles is Satan and he has supernatural powers. Faust has sold his soul to him in return for youth and the love of the beautiful Marguerite. There is a supernatural quality in the story and the opera that must be visible; this is not middle class drama. The libretto by Jules Barbier & Michel Carré may leave a lot to be desired but there are better and more dramatic approaches to the opera than we get in the current production.
The gentleman Faust is sung by Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja who sings clearly and ringingly but not always with passion. Is he not allowed to be expressive because we are not in favour of passion in this production?
The suave Mephistopheles does better in the hands and vocal chords of Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto who sings with superb sonority but is not allowed too many supernatural powers. He sings “Le veau d’or” with panache and style and he delivers an impeccable performance within the limitations of this production. He does smash a sword and direct a fight from afar but this a devil you would invite home for dinner – almost.
Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya was a superb Marguerite. With a ribbon in her hair, she looked young and virginal and was physically convincing and vocally outstanding. She expressed passion and sorrow beautifully in the “Jewel Song.”
Romanian baritone George Petean was an imposing and effective Valentin, Marguerite’s brother. American mezzo soprano Kate Lindsay provided good contrast and vocal beauty in the pants role of the hapless Siebel.
The Met Orchestra was conducted by Alain Altinoglu.
In the end, this one struck me as a rather muddled and unfocused production of an opera that is admittedly not without its problems.
Faust by Charles Francois Gounod with libretto by Jules Barbier & Michel Carré opened on November 29, 2011 with a different cast and continues at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York. www.metopera.org