Do not undervalue French music. It has its merits. Certainly, it is not Italian; neither is it German; but it is all the better for that. It is lively, gay, expressive, witty, intelligible, charming; in one word, it is French.
A friend very kindly gave me a ticket for last night’s premiere of the new staging of Gounod’s Faust at the Metropolitan Opera. I had hoped to write up a short “formal” review but cannot, because of impending travel and also because I take no joy in crafting stroncature.
Where to begin?
- My friend speculated that the set was somehow acoustically unkind to the singers, and I think that he may be correct. I heard what I know as René Pape’s voice only once, when he was singing from one particular spot downstage during the church scene.
- That said, Pape sounded woofy to me, and he possesses neither the clarity of enunciation nor the finesse required for French music. (And the soft-shoe? Not so much.)
- Jonas Kaufmann is intelligent, sensitive, a wonderful actor, and—let’s be real, folks—a Kravattentenor or, perhaps, a baritone. Either way, Faust is not a rôle for him.
- After reading the profile of her in The New Yorker, I had no idea what Marina Poplavskaya had accomplished to deserve that kind of attention. Having heard her in Traviata and Faust, I still have no idea. She was ghastly as Marguerite. Worse, the otherwise worthy Yannick Nézet-Séguin slackened the tempos, thereby prolonging the agony of hearing her out-of-tune mewling and shrieking. And yet, under one of those wicked come-scritto hacks, Poplavskaya can sing splendidly. Was she indisposed Monday evening?
- (Whatever her foibles, Angela Gheorghiu can be counted on to deliver the goods vocally.)
- Russell Braun, a great favorite of mine, was at his best in Valentin’s death scene, when his voice finally bloomed. (Nota bene: He was downstage and off to the side then.) Michèle Losier was a fine Siébel.
- I admired a number of small touches in the staging: the shell-shocked veteran who went berserk when a camera flash went off; the woman who waited in vain for her husband or son to return from the front; Marguerite’s panicked drowning of her newborn in the stoup/lab sink.
- What was Voldemort doing in Faust?
- The atomic bomb? And the neutrinos?
- Yannick Nézet-Séguin: excellent, though much too inclined to indulge the singers. (The slowest bits practically moved backwards. Nota bene: If the neutrino thing pans out, we will all be able to move backwards, and I will at long last get to meet Machiavelli. Fingers crossed.)
- Finally: “Lively, gay, expressive, witty, intelligible, charming.” None of the above. Not French.
P.S. Read Will Crutchfield on Faust. Good stuff.