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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Faust

The Met continues further testing on its "atomic" Faust.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Atomic babe: Marina Poplavskaya in Faust.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
Dez McAnuff's 2010 production of Gounod's Faust re-imagined Gounod's opera about a scholar who sells his soul to the devil as a metaphor for the creation and testing of the atomic bomb in the mid-20th century. While the spare staging featured an elegant Faust and Mephistopheles trading in lab coats for spiffy suits, audience and critical fallout was decidedly mixed.

Mr. McAnuff  retells the life of the German scholar who dabbled in the dark arts as some sort of parallel to the life of Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb and star of his very own opera. The old man reflects on two world wars and the nuclear dawn of the 1940s. It's long on spectacle, heavy on pretense, and has some inexplicable ideas, including two giant puppets that look more suited to an Iron Maiden tour than a French opera.

Marina Poplavskaya returns as Marguerite. Piotr Beczala takes over as Faust. Mephistopheles is John Relyea, who returns to the Met stage after being forced to cancel engagements in 2011. Opera lovers may remember him as a different devil--he sang the role of Méphistophélès in the company's production of Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust.

Faust returns March 21, 2013.

Recording Recommendations:
Faust was the most popular opera in the world at the start of the 20th century, and has been recorded frequently. The rash of (crappy) all-star Faust recordings (featuring big names like Sutherland, Domingo, Te Kanawa, etc.) that appeared in the '70s, '80s and '90s can be safely dismissed, in favor of....

Orchestre Et Choeur Du Théatre National De l'Opéra De Paris cond. Andre Cluytens (EMI, 1959)
Faust: Nicolai Gedda
Méphistophélès: Boris Christoff
Marguerite: Victoria de los Angeles

This is a stereo remake of a mono recording from five years before with the same cast. It remains the best recording of the opera available. Nicolai Gedda is brilliant as Faust. The Swedish tenor sounds at home in French repertory. De Los Angeles (a famous Carmen) is a velvety Marguerite. The Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff tends to snarl and bark through the role of Old Scratch, but he makes up for it with a spectacularly sinister presence. At an attractive mid-price, this is only Faust to own. Yes. I sound like the Penguin Guide. But it's really good.

Return to the Superconductor 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.