The Metropolitan Opera – La damnation de Faust

La damnation de Faust – Dramatic legend in four Parts to a libretto by Almire Gandonnière and the composer based on Gérard de Nerval’s translation of Goethe’s Faust [sung in French with Met Titles in English and German]

Faust – Ramón Vargas
Méphistophélès – Ildar Abdrazakov
Brander – Patrick Carfizzi
Marguerite – Olga Borodina

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
James Conlon

Robert Lepage – Production
Neilson Vignola – Associate Director
Carl Fillion – Set Designer
Karin Erskine – Costume Designer
Sonoyo Nishikawa – Lighting Designer
Holger Förterer – Interactive Video Designer
Boris Firquet – Image Designer
Johanne Madore & Alain Gauthier – Choreographers

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 26 October, 2009
Venue: Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

Ildar Abdrazakov as Méphistophélès. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera“La Damnation de Faust” came to the Metropolitan Opera House last season for the first time since 1906, and this staging, with all its technical wizardry, is most welcome, stunning and effective.

The great thing about the use of video is the freshness brought to the visual aspect. Rather than conventional sets there is a four-tiered wall on which the principals and extras walk. Onto this is a video projection that is almost always changing, ably conjuring the scenes, whether a church, the facade of a large house, hell, sprinting horses, or the ascent to Heaven. The transitions between the many images were miraculous, as was the interaction, and response, of the images to the action of characters. Curtains waved when extras moved past them, and a tree-lined tier had its leaves drop as Méphistophélès walked by. As acrobats jumped behind a scrim from the top tier the audience saw figures tumbling through water. Méphistophélès’s minions occasionally ran all over the front of the screen and soldiers marched horizontally. Amazing to see!Soldiers march in the Met's Damnation de Faust. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaTo experience all of these revolutionary effects is the principal reason for catching this production, allowing otherwise-impossible conventional set changes. Robert Lepage is to stage the Met’s new ‘Ring’ cycle – it must be keenly anticipated.

James Conlon’s account of Berlioz’s score was sympathetic to the singers, but to the point where the music lacked its dramatic focus. Rarely could the ‘Marche hongroise’ have had so little fizz or spark, or the ‘Ride to Hell’ have been so sluggish and devoid of foreboding terror. The thrill of most of Berlioz’s music comes from its colour; that this was a drained, languid account was very disappointing. The only fire came from the visual elements and the singing.

Very much at the helm was the experienced Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as Méphistophélès. He was athletic, strutted about the sets, with the air of assumed authority (arrogance), and always with a devilish twinkle in his eye. His voice projection was impressive, and his French nuanced and well-caught. Olga Borodina’s Marguerite captured Ramón Vargas as Faust & Ildar Abdrazakov as Méphistophélès. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Operainnocence, and was very warm throughout, her range secure, but that was at the expense of the libretto, which was massaged over. Her lament at lost love (‘D’amour l’ardente flamme’), though, was a highlight of the evening, captivating, with pining despair.

Ramón Vargas as Faust, the man who makes a fatal compact with the devil, convinced that he was on the verge of suicide, Vargas’s almost patrician manner lending an apt air of haughtiness to his disdain of Méphistophélès and his temptations. Vargas’s characterisation was full of pent-up yearning, and ‘Nature immense’ became an outpouring of frustration.

The Met Opera Chorus were on thrilling form. The ‘Pandaemonium’ chorus of deamons and damned souls, the bare-chested chorus, could easily have been models from the Abercrombie store across the Park on Fifth Avenue, conjured a vision of Hell with frightening vividness and then transformed to a vision of Heaven, as the pardoned Marguerite rises, angelic voices triumphed.

This revolutionary production deserves wider currency. It will surely go down as a landmark of operatic staging.

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