Jun 28, 2008

La Damnation de Faust

Légende dramatique en quatre parties
Hector Berlioz
Paroles de Hector Berlioz, Almire Gandonnière et Gérard de Nerval
[the original manuscript states "Les paroles du récitatif de Méphistophélès dans la cave de Leipzig, de la chanson latine des étudiants, du récitatif qui précède la danse des Follets, du Final de la 3ème partie, de toute la 4ème (à l’exception de la Romance de Marguerite) et de l’Epilogue, sont de M. H. Berlioz."]
After Goethe's Faust
Libretto available here, synopsis here.

Opéra de Lyon
27 juin 2008
Concert version

Marguerite - Katerina Karneus
Faust - Vincent Cole
Méphistophélès - Lionel Lhote
Brander - Nicolas Testé
Choeurs, maîtrise et orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon
Emmanuel Krivine conducting

La Damnation de Faust definitely demands a conductor that knows how to get the best of the orchestra & chorus, and understands that the crucial part here is the attacks of the notes, as well as the delicate balance between soft bars and aggressive ones.
In that regard, the conductor is more than ever the key to a successful evening.

Lyon favorite Emmanuel Krivine (who was the principal conductor of the Orchestre National de Lyon - the other orchestra of the city - from 1987 to 2000) was indeed an interesting choice.
His reading of the first two parts of the piece was undoubtedly superb (including the famous Hungary March, which was extraordinary); his interpretation of the last two left me more sceptical, as I would have liked a slightly faster tempo in arias such as "D'amour l'ardente flamme" and "Nature, immense, impénétrable", as well as "Ange adoré" the duet between Faust and Marguerite at the end of Part III. But his choices made sense and, most importantly, were adequate for the poor performances at this stage of both Vincent Cole and Katerina Karneus.
And his conduction in the big "La course à l'abyme" scene near the end of the piece was an exquisite way to bounce back before the last appearance of the chorus.

The orchestra had some issues in the cellos section as well as the brass, but the wind section was beyond reproach (especially first oboe Frédéric Tardy) and the solo of first alto Natalia Tolstaia was magnetizing.
The female part of the chorus was a bit off balance in the first part, but managed to regroup to match the excellent performance of the male singers, whose unison and nuances were as perfect of one can hope for in a chorus performance. Once again, chorus master Alan Woodbridge did a fantastic job.

My love for French bass Nicolas Testé was once again rewarded with a marvelous interpretation of his only aria as Brander, and in that short instant, he totally overshadowed the overall very good performance of Lionel Lhote as Méphistophélès.
Once again, I'm left wondering why this incredible performer is not used at his true value and cast in major roles (he would be an extraordinary Méphistophélès in Gounod's Faust for instance).

As mentioned before, Lionel Lhote (already seen in Mary Stuarda this season) was excellent as Méphistophélès, especially in "La course à l'abyme" scene (Part 4 scene XVIII).

Vincent Cole started well as Faust.
Unfortunately the intermission (after the first two parts) was fatal to him, as his performance afterward declined from hardly audible to not audible at all at the end of the piece (which, in theatrical terms, completely sold the final victory of Méphistophélès).

Mezzo Katerina Karneus was well into character - but her singing was mediocre and uninspired.

All in all, a very decent evening to close my season here in Lyon (the piece will be performed one more time tomorrow for the final evening of the season), thanks to Emmanuel Krivine, the chorus and Lionel Lhote.

Hector Berlioz

(as some would say):

I spotted GM Serge Dorny during the intermission in the Grand Foyer, showing off as he always does, "les épaules en arrière et la poitrine en avant"*, a good testimony to the "bling-bling" culture currently ravishing the French society (thanks to "bling-bling"-president Sarkozy).

* children chorus, Act I, Carmen, Bizet

YouTube extracts to familiarize with this piece:


The Opera Tattler said...

A very fine tattle, indeed. :)

One of these days I really should listen to this opera, I'm so weak on French operas, it's quite sad. Thank you very much for the clips!

Extatic said...

You're most welcome!