Opera San José's Faust

Pk0418faustmargueritea* Notes *
Faust (
Act II with Michael Dailey and Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste, photograph by P. Kirk) opened at Opera San José last night. The ambitious performance had some lovely points, but was, on the whole, rather scattershot. The orchestra, lead by David Rohrbaugh, sounded slightly lax. The overture was drawn out so that we could hear all the tunes we would be hearing later in the evening. The tempi were not too slow as much as simply lacking tension. The woodwinds did sound clear and sweet. The organ was also excellent.

The chorus was a little patchy, perhaps the music simply demands a few more people. Evan Brummel sang Valentin well, his voice is dry but pleasant. Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste (Marguerite) has a rich, powerful sound. Her big aria, the Jewel Song, could have been more smoothly sung, and her top is a bit on the raw side. Silas Elash looked like a pirate version of Méphistophéles. His voice is strong, a little gravelly, with a great openness his higher notes. Michael Dailey's Faust was distinctive. His nasal, somewhat petulant tone did not make the character sympathetic, but was perhaps appropriate for the role.

The production, directed by Brad Dalton, evoked the Flemish Primitives. The backdrops recreated various paintings by Bosch, Bruegel, and the like. There was no strong sense of interior or exterior parts of the set. The cast seemed drawn to standing on whatever was highest: chairs, tables, or rickety staircases. Dalton referred to Marguerite's dead sister throughout the opera, and used a young supernumerary to this end. The effect was eerie, but not exactly in line with the music. Four dancers were also employed as minions of Méphistophéles, pushing the action along.

* Tattling * 
The couple in Row M Seats 108 and 109 talked the entire evening. Otherwise the audience was supportive and engaged.

Faust at the Met

Met-faust-rene-pape* Notes * 
A new production of Faust, directed by Des McAnuff, opened at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Robert Brill's set is pleasingly spare, and the twin spiral staircases were put to cunning use. The transitions from scene to scene were clean and simple, aided by lighting designer Peter Mumford and video designer Sean Nieuwenhuis. Some of the images used were rather silly, especially the enormous red roses on the rear projection screen in Act III. The large projections of the characters heads were not flattering. Nonetheless, the moving clouds and green flames were effective in transforming the space. The costumes, by Paul Tazewell, did not appear to have a consistency to them as far as period is concerned. For instance, the chorus in Act II looked like they had wandered in from some entirely different opera. Kelly Devine's choreography was entertaining, people in lab coats spinning about and the dancing during "Le veau d'or" were particularly amusing. Overall, though it seemed McAnuff had some good ideas, the production simply seemed somewhat scattered and random.

The orchestra sounded lovely under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who kept the tempi moving and the dynamics restrained. There were a few chaotic moments, but for the most part, the playing and singing were synchronized. The chorus was occasionally a hair behind the orchestra in Act II, but "Déposons les armes" and "Sauvée! Christ est ressuscité" were both sung solidly.

The principal cast was uneven. Michèle Losier (Siébel) sounded a bit raw, but she does have a nice brightness to her voice. Russell Braun was a serviceable Valentin, though I believe he and the flute were not exactly together in his first aria. Marina Poplavskaya did not impress as Marguerite, her high notes are ugly and her singing has no line to it, as her breath support is lacking. She does have a pleasant darkness to her voice at least. René Pape (pictured above, photograph by Ken Howard) was a convincing Méphistophélès, he moves well and the choreography suited him. Pape has a beautiful voice with a great deal of warmth. Jonas Kaufmann made for a fine, though perhaps dull, Faust. He has a gorgeous legato and perfect control. The baritonal qualities of his pretty voice came out in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Because of the gala pricing of this event, the tickets were not sold out in the Family Circle, and one was unable to purchase standing room tickets at the back of the house. Nonetheless, a few standees were to be seen there.

Loud complaints were heard during the music concerning personal effects left in aisles and the kicking of seats. Someone crumpled a plastic bag during Acts II and III. At least two watch alarms were heard at each hour.

Faust at San Diego Opera

Stephen Costello as Faust and Ailyn Pérez as Marguerite in San Diego Opera’s production of Faust, April/May, 2011. Photo © Cory Weaver. * Notes * 
The opening performance of a Faust revival at San Diego Opera occurred last night. Seen last season in San Francisco, the sets and costumes were designed by Robert Perdziola, with lighting from Michael Whitfield. Apparently the production, owned by Lyric Opera of Chicago, was actually designed for Tancredi. In San Diego, it was redesigned for Faust 10 years ago and the staging this time around was done by David Gately. It was striking how distinct this performance was from the San Francisco performances last June, despite having the same sets, costumes, and even one of the same singers. There was much more ballet in San Diego's version. The choreography for the chorus was simpler and had the singers remain onstage for more of Act I, Scene 2. The chorus did well, and were, for the most part, together. Karen Keltner had the orchestra sounding pretty and legato. The brass had a few evident vulnerabilities.

Scott Sikon was perfectly fine as Wagner, and Jane Bunnell was amusing as Marthe. Sarah Castle looked perfectly boyish as Siébel. Her voice was clean and bright, both her "Faites-lui mes aveux" and her scene with Marguerite at the end of Act III, Scene 1 were very sweet. Baritone Brian Mulligan was strong as Valentin, his "O Sainte Medaille" garnered the first ovation of the evening. Greer Grimsley looked and sounded like a convincing Méphistophélès. His voice has a certain husk-like quality to it that lacks prettiness and works for the Devil. Ailyn Pérez made for a fitting contrast, a lovely Marguerite indeed, especially for "Il était un roi de Thulé." Pérez possesses a wonderful effortlessness when she sings. Stephen Costello may have a slightly harder time as Faust, one or two high notes betrayed strain, but not constriction. Costello did sound plaintive, his voice is pleasant and has enough squillo to cut through the orchestration. Pérez and Costello made an attractive pair.

* Tattling * 
The talking and whispering during overtures was unrelenting, at least on the right side of Row S on the orchestra level. No mobile phones were heard, but there were those who used them to check the time between scenes.

Faust at SF Opera

Brian Mulligan (Valentin) and John Relyea (Méphistophélès), photo by Cory Weaver * Notes * 
Gounod's Faust opened at San Francisco Opera last weekend. I had briefly entertained the idea of driving back from Southern California where I was seeing LA Opera's Ring for this, but decided it would be too disruptive to both my schedule and state of mind. Even at Tuesday night's performance, it was a bit odd to have left the world of Wagner for this frilly, pretty piece. Robert Perdziola's production, directed here by Jose Maria Condemi, is straightforward, with attractive sets and amusing surprises as far as staging. The chorus was not handled with particular deftness. The chorus did not sound precisely together, and the way the entrances and exits were choreographed in Act I Scene 2 did not help. However, the off stage choral singing "Sauvée! Christ est ressuscité" was lovely, and the playing was especially fine here too. Maurizio Benini had the orchestra sounding appropriately frothy and nice, and perhaps a bit hazy.

As usual, Catherine Cook acted the comic role of Marthe convincingly. Current Adler Fellow Austin Kness sounded boyish, and Daniela Mack even more so as Siébel. Although Mack's vibrato could be a bit much, her "Faites-lui mes aveux" came off well. Baritone Brian Mulligan sounded absolutely wonderful as Valentin, his "O Sainte Medaille" was the highlight of Act I, and his music at the end of Act IV was poignant. John Relyea sleekly embodied Méphistophélès, his voice remains very rich, and his acting is strong. On the other hand, Patricia Racette was less persuasive as Marguerite, somehow all her wobbling did not project youth or naïveté. Her Jewel Song bordered on the grotesque, though her rendition of "Il était un roi de Thulé" was less unsightly. Racette seems more believable as a fallen women, so by the end her Marguerite, crazed and in despair, was moving. Stefano Secco was a pleasant enough Faust, his voice has volume without roughness. Something about the way he hits the high notes gave me the sensation of watching someone hoisting a sail with great effort.

* Tattling * 
Standing room was not crowded, and there was not much to say about the audience in Act I. After the first intermission I was given a ticket for the first row of the Grand Tier, on the aisle but near the center. Talking aloud was heard from a certain person in A 101, but in my immediate vicinity, the audience was quiet.

Santa Fe Opera's 2011 Season

July 1- August 27 2011: Faust
July 2- August 26 2011: La Bohème
July 16- August 19 2011: Griselda
July 23- August 25 2011: The Last Savage
July 30- August 17 2011: Wozzeck

Santa Fe just announced that their new chief conductor is Frederic Chaslin and what is coming up for the 2011 season. Bryan Hymel and Dimitri Pittas share the role of Faust, opposite of Ailyn Pérez. Ana María Martínez and David Lomelí sing in La Bohème. Meredith Arwady, David Daniels, and Amanda Majeski sing in Vivaldi's Griselda. Daniel Okulitch and Anna Christy are the leads in Menotti's The Last Savage, which is to be sung in English. Former Adler Fellow Sean Panikkar will also be in this opera. Richard Paul Fink sings the title role of Wozzeck, with Nicola Beller Carbone as Marie. Eric Owens will be the Doctor and Stuart Skelton the Drum Major.

Season | Official Site

Festival Opera's Faust

 * Notes * 
Festival Opera's production of Faust opened last Saturday at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. The orchestra, under Michael Morgan, sounded jaunty all evening long, though there were some issues with the horns. The chorus did not fare quite as well, at times they lacked confidence, particularly the men's chorus in "Déposons les armes."

The cast in the smaller roles were pretty good: Zachary Gordin (Wagner), Erin Neff (Siébel), and Patrice Houston (Marthe) were all perfectly appropriate vocally. Eugene Brancoveanu was incredible as Valentin, his presence commanded the stage and his voice is beautiful.

As for the main characters, Kirk Eichelberger was an interestingly vain Méphistophélès, his acting is perhaps stronger than his singing. Kristin Clayton did well as Marguerite, though her voice is not overly sweet, she does have a good heft and volume. On the other hand, Brian Thorsett (Faust) sounded very pretty and clear in the middle of his tessitura. He did have a terrible cracking cough on one of the notes just before the chorus is heard in Act I, and showed some signs of strain throughout the evening.

The production, designed by Matthew Antaky, was not a distraction. There were two screens suspended from the ceiling which seemed to have rather static photographs on them. They resembled the images that come with one's computer as choices for desktop background. However, there was a scene with a giant beach ball being tossed around upstage that was worth the price of admission.

* Tattling * 
There was some scattered talking, and one watch alarm was heard at 11pm.

The Minnesota Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 20 2008: Il Trovatore
November 1 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
January 24 2009: Faust
February 28 2009: The Adventures of Pinocchio
April 11 2009: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

The Minnesota Opera's next season includes a U.S. premiere of Jonathan Dove's The Adventures of Pinocchio, some Mariinsky stars, and Paul Groves as Faust.

Star Tribune Article | The Minnesota Opera Site