Faust - Metropolitan Opera, 12/23/2011
Byström, Alagna, Mulligan, Pape / Nézet-Séguin
It works, it works, it works! Never mind the vocal issues -- that Alagna is (as was announced at the worst possible time) indisposed and that Malin Byström is, um, a mezzo. Having a pair of leads actually interested in telling the story makes all the difference.
It's the virtues that stand out. Alagna in French has a conversational-improvisational way with phrases that puts even his difficulties in a favorable light. Met debutante Byström, with her lovely mezzo sound and disconnected/iffy top notes (and fake trill, which makes me wonder how the dramatic coloratura stuff she sings might go), in any case inhabits the part of Marguerite more completely and continuously -- from flightiness to rapture to... everything else -- than any predecessor I can remember, and certainly more so than the all-too-grounded Poplavskaya. Between them they bring the charge of significance to the whole of the opera, and their engagement in Act III as well as the latter acts brings out even more of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin's magic. (This show was, I think, his finest work here since Carmen.) Even the production, for all its suboptimal choices, makes its real strength clear: an (apparently) unironic appreciation and awe for the power of traditional Christian piety. (It's not really from Goethe's text, but is much of what makes the actual opera tick.)
Vocal force for the evening was provided by not only Rene Pape but baritone Brian Mulligan, who has been singing at the Met since 2003 but got his first real solo chance here. His firm, masculine, easily Met-sized sound was the evening's revelation, and deserves more opportunities than the single cover's performance he got here.
Mulligan won't be back on Wednesday with the rest of this cast (Russell Braun, who lacked the vocal force to make an impact in Valentin's lyric parts, returns), but the magnitude of Friday's success makes the second and last Alagna/Byström Faust a must-see[-again].