We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Charles Gounod
Do we ever tire of Faust?  No, we do not!  Charles Gounod wrote this opera when he was about 40 years old.  Although it was not initially well received it quickly rose to a state of high popularity likely on the basis of its tunefulness and the poignancy of its story of innocence corrupted and finally redeemed.  It would be a sad opera company that did not have Faust in its repertory; it would likewise be unusual for a singer not to have one of its arias under his/her vocal belt.  Pardon the pun.  Marguerite's "Jewel Song", Siebel's "Faites-lui mes aveux", Valentin's "O Sainte médaille", Faust's "Salut, demeure chaste et pure", and Méphistophélès "Le veau d'or"--all are superb examples of mid 19th c. operatic gems.  It is difficult to leave Faust without humming them, not to mention the thrilling choruses: "Ainsi que la brise légère" and the famous "Soldier's Chorus".

The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré was adapted from Carré's play Faust et Marguerite, which was loosely adapted from Goethe's Faust.  The libretto wisely focuses on Faust's seduction of Marguerite, her downfall and her redemption by her faith in God.  The devil tells her she is damned but the heavenly voice cries "Sauvée!"

Produced this past weekend by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Repertoire Ensemble, we consider the production a major success.  In a jointly created reduction conducted by the highly esteemed Music Director Thomas Muraco, Dura Jun and Saundra Schiller performed the piano parts; the spinning sounds when Marguerite sits at her spinning wheel and laments her abandonment by Faust were particularly well realized.  Brett Klaus played the organ during the church scenes.  Jacob Bass played the solo violin part most movingly in Faust's "Salut, demeure chaste et pure" and Sissi He provided some lovely rippling sounds on the harp when Faust espies Marguerite.  It was most interesting to experience Gounod's glorious music in a different manner and to actually hear things we never noticed when the opera is produced with full orchestra; a sequence of chords with open fifths before Marguerite tries on the jewels lets us know that this is not going to end well!

Stage Director Carol Castel did an impressive job on the wide but shallow stage of the Ades Performing Space.  Having experienced opera predominantly in huge performing spaces we will go out on a limb and say that the intimacy of a small space is a welcome relief, both in observation of the singers and in experiencing a connection with the emotions of the characters.  Ms. Castel used the space well and made the action believable from moment to moment.  One touch that worked particularly well was having background performers freeze when something was happening with the major players.  (Lately we have noticed at the Metropolitan Opera too much distracting action during the big arias.)  Just as we did not miss the full orchestra or the Walpurgisnacht Ballet we likewise did not miss costuming and lavish props.  Keeping things simple allowed us to focus on the singing and acting which was excellent all around.

As the devil himself, bass-baritone James Ioelu used his sturdy sound to fine effect and was appropriately arrogant, smug, cynical and seductive.  We loved the comic relief scene where he gets Marthe, a spirited and funny Rachelle Pike, to forget her newly deceased husband and to fall in love with him.  Tenor Aaron Short employed his fine tenor in the titular role and was well matched with soprano Margrethe Fredheim whose voice opened up beautifully in the upper register.  Indeed the Act II quartet, although brief, gave us the opportunity to hear four fine voices blended in perfect harmony.

Baritone Seung-Hyeon Scott Baek was equally fine as Marguerite's brother Valentin and sang "Avant de quitter ces lieux" with the right amount of manly protectiveness.  Ann-Louise Glasser took on the pants role of Siebel and Swedish baritone Joakim Larsson, an exchange student, took the role of Wagner.  We cannot say enough good things about the chorus.  The waltz in Act I was brilliantly sung and the male chorus was similarly superb in the Soldier's Chorus.

This may wind up occupying first place in our store of Faustian memories.  Bravi tutti!

© meche kroop

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