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Friday, June 7, 2019


The Met tones down La Damnation de Faust.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susan Graham (left) and Marcello Giordani (right) in a tender moment from
the Met's 2008 staging of La Damnation de Faust. Photo by Ken Howard © 2008 The Metropolitan Opera.
If you were planning  on seeing the Metropolitan Opera's unique and visually mind-blowing production of Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust next season, you are out of luck. In an e-mail sent to subscribers (and obtained by Superconductor) the Met has announced that the company's presentations of the hybrid opera-oratorio will not be seen in its staging as originally envisioned by director Robert Lepage. The remainder will be mounted as concert performances in the vast opera house. Also, there will be just four shows, as three of the performances are cancelled.

Premiering in 2008, the Lepage staging of La Damnation was the Quebec-born director's first show for the vast Metropolitan Opera stage. It starred Susan Graham, John Relyea and was a fantasia of creative digitally enhanced visuals. I vividly remember soldiers marching up the walls of the opera's set, horses hurtling through a hellish darkness and amazingly, an underwater scene that was better than the one in the same director's later staging of Das Rheingold. It was revived just once, a year later and quickly mothballed.

This is the second time in three seasons that the Met has yanked a major production for a dull concert evening. The last occasion was when the company cancelled an eagerly anticipated version of Verdi's La Forza del Destino in 2017, replacing it with the Verdi Requiem in concert and a few "family style" run throughs of The Magic Flute. Those Requiem performances, mounted with the chorus and soloists in evening wear in front of a tobacco-brown wooden wall, were nothing to write home about. (Superconductor wrote about them anyway.)

The e-mail reads:

"We’re writing to inform you, as a ticket buyer to Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, of an important change. The performances of La Damnation de Faust on January 25 and 29, and February 1 and 8, 2020, will be converted into concert presentations, similar to the Met’s Verdi Requiem performances in the 2017–18 season. Performances on February 4, 12, and 15, 2020, have been cancelled."

"The decision to present La Damnation de Faust in its more usual concert version is driven by the unanticipated technical demands of reviving the Met’s staged production, impossible to accommodate within the company’s production schedule. The cast, including mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, bass Ildar Abdrazakov, and tenors Bryan Hymel (January 25, 29) and Michael Spyres (February 1, 8) sharing the title role, remains unchanged. Edward Gardner is the conductor."

The bit about "unanticipated technical demands" is interesting especially from an opera company that just revived Mr. Lepage's even more challenging version of the Ring cycle this season, and has mounted other Lepage shows (The Tempest, L'amour de Loin) in recent years. Mr. Lepage has been selected to direct the company's new staging of Die Zauberflöte for the 2020-21 season, but to quote our colleagues at parterre box, "don't hold your breath."

Berlioz broke new ground in this work, which combines the complexity of choral music with a vivid re-telling of Goethe's morality tale. However, the extravagant staging demands of the libretto mean that most performances of this piece are done in a "concert" format. While one can still experience the Met's visionary Damnation in the theater of the mind, thanks to these cancellations, New York has lost half of its opportunities to do so.

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