19 November, 2009

Opera Review: La Damnation de Faust

pic of production from the NYT

Opera Review: La Damnation de Faust

Oct 17, 2009

Metropolitan Opera

Berlioz La Damnation de Faust

NYT review (full review of original 2008 production)
NYT review (capsular review of this 2009 revival)

I attended the last performance of this re-run of last year’s hugely popular production. This opera would not have been so successful if not for the visual wizardry of director Robert Lepage. Admittedly I have never been a fan of the music and went for the theatre part of it, and in the end I got not much more than what I had bargained for.

Although the visual alignment was not perfect for someone sitting in the family circle, one could see all the happenings and even learn how some of the visual tricks were achieved. Aligned close to the front, the simple set of evenly spaced tall support columns and planks spanning the full width of the stage divides the vertical plane into grids. Aided by video projection onto mechanized screens these were alternately transformed into rooms with windows. The rooms were populated most of the time by the chorus and dancers, less often by the main characters.

The visuals were riveting most of the time. One got busy in the futile attempt to register everything happening in every grid. The lighting was masterly, imparting much needed three-dimensionality to the relatively compressed depth of the production. Only in certain scenes, such as the ride to hell, did the compression become painfully evident. The direction gave much for the chorus and dancers to do, and that is apt as they as much as the soloists are the stars of this opera/oratorio/music drama. The chorus sang solidly and the dancers were bent on their acrobatics.

The largely successful deployment of the chorus and dancers unfortunately threw the singers into not always flattering relief. Ramon Vargas sang Faust relatively stylishly but could not fill the hall. Despite her poorer diction, Olga Borodina sang better but was visually unconvincing as Marguerite. One cringed when in the Epilogue her large body had to climb up the stairs to heaven. Better was the Mephistopheles of Ildar Abdrazakov, the real-life partner of Borodina. Perhaps fatigue had set in by the end of the run. Note that the cast was completely different from that of last year (see NYT link). James Conlon conducted efficiently and the orchestra played well, though I think the score’s lyricism was not always in abundant supply.

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