Poplavskaya, Kaufmann, Braun, Pape / Nézet-Séguin
If all's well that ends well, this new Met Faust was a worthy success: the final scene, as often, wrapped things up in excellent style and strong feeling. But before that...
This time it's not at all Rene Pape's fault. Since his participation as Mephistopheles in the previous Met Faust's premiere six-and-a-half years ago, Pape has actually learned the part and made it -- and the opera -- his. No longer does he stand, wait for the prompter, and sing: now we see the full range of Pape's sounds, moods, and personality, and he rules every scene he's in.
Nor is it the fault of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who again conducts excellently, nor even of baritone Russell Braun, who is decent if undistinguished as Valentin. Mezzo Michele Losier in fact shows well in her small part (Siebel).
No, the main problem here lies with the two lovers, who between them had neither chemistry nor lyric feeling. As Marguerite, the now-ubiquitous Marina Poplavskaya was a pretty good Jenufa. With Jonas Kaufmann -- well, like one of those eye trick images, now that I've seen him as flawed I can't un-see it. Here he was strong, correct, but uninspired for the first Act, crooned awfully in the love duets for the next Acts, and launched some impressive climactic high notes for the last two. So the show's last part -- with Marguerite dramatically distraught and Faust given phrase-capping high notes -- played to their strengths, but the entire romance arc about which the story revolves was, well, nonexistent, flat, and boring. It's not really clear to me why either of these singers is even doing these parts: lyric phrasing & lines are not the pair's strength.
Des McAnuff's new production doesn't really demand much comment. There's a bit of a "concept" frame, but it's fairly innocuous as far as such things go, and is a decent fit for those modern folk who -- like Goethe himself -- have a hard time really believing in damnation or tragedy proper. The main problem is that it's ugly -- the green lighting for the Walpurgisnacht was a big mistake -- and looks cheap, more on the ENO budget scale (where, in fact, the production originated) than the Met's. It's not as stupid as the Andrei Serban production it replaced, but that had a crude vulgar vigor that this sadly lacks. We saw it at curtain call, where the production folks were neither particularly bravoed nor booed, but mostly given polite, dead applause. Yes, it's not even worth booing.
I did like debuting choreographer Kelly Devine's "Thriller"-zombie dance during the Golden Calf song, though.
This was, of course, supposed to have starred Gheorghiu and Kaufmann -- before Gheorghiu got tossed in the lead-up to another Gounod opera (Roméo et Juliette) last season. Even if she can't actually sing the part these days (and maybe she can), one can't help but think that Gheorghiu would have again at least made Kaufmann more interesting.
Wait for the next casts -- perhaps Swedish newcomer Malin Byström is the Marguerite that Poplavskaya is not. But do see Rene Pape before he goes, even if his replacement (with the Calleja cast) is the ageless Ferruccio Furlanetto.