Friday, July 2, 2010

SFOpera: Gounod's Faust

The conclusion (for us) of the 2009/2010 opera season at the San Francisco Opera was yesterday's Faust (Gounod). It started in a high-note: The lecture (by Clifford Cranna, Director of Music Administration) was excellent. In just under half an hour,  he gave a great overview of the origins of the Faust legend, and highlighted the most important plays that influenced Gounod, talked about the history of this opera itself, in the various incarnations, and told the story, illustrated by recordings, while giving us information on the musical styles that Gounod used. I wish they always had high quality lectures like this.

Now to the opera itself: The Faust legend in Gounod's interpretation has its emphasis on Marguerite (Gretchen), who has probably the largest part to sing, beautifully portrayed and sung by Patricia Racette.The production has traditional, with nice period costumes, and pretty scenery.
The other big part was Mephisto (John Relyea), whose characterization of Mephisto was quite believable and lively. He did remind me of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with a colorful costume in the second act, and the use of his violin in manipulating people.  I wished that his voice would be a bit fuller and warmer.
I never liked the character of Faust, in neither Goethe's play nor the other Faust operas I have seen (Dr. Faustus from Busoni, Mephistophele from Boito). Stephano Secco did a good job, and to me came over as the jerk he is supposed to portray. Siebel (Daniela Mack) and Marthe (Catherine Cook) were both quite wonderful. Brian Mulligan as Valentin stood out despite the bizarre lightning during his aria (The stage changed colors constantly, for no apparent reason). The performance was interesting and engaging, but lost some of its impact in the last scene.  After four hours (including two intermissions) we were happy to go home.

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