Damnation Redux - Friday, November 14, 2008
Some comments on Sam Shirakawa's squib on the Met's new production of The Damnation of Faust, based on my own observations at Friday evening's performance:
G and I sat near the back of the Family Circle, but off to one side. I was not aware of the whirring of the projectors from the lighting booth above the Family Circle, so I suspect Sam heard the racket because he was sitting closer to the center of the Family Circle. Since Opening Night, the Met may also have worked to dampen the noise.
I agree with Sam about the the two-dimensionality of the production. This was especially obvious in the dance sequences where the dancers all moved laterally to and fro across the stage, but the stretches of stage they had to work with amounted to wider than normal catwalks.
Some of the video effects were striking - one of the more arresting images came late in the second act: as Méphistophélès stalks Faust to seek his signature on the deed, one by one the trees with their fall foliage wither as Méphistophélès advances across the stage towards his quarry - chilling and effective.
As for the singing, Susan Graham was wonderful throughout, perhaps the best I had ever heard her, with warm and plangent tone, long-breathed phrasing and generally good diction. Patrick Carfizzi, as the drunkard, Brander, made the most of his aria, with admirably clear diction. I have always loved Carfizzi's voice and presence and wonder why he has not been given meatier roles (I suspect he could handle Méphistophélès with more panache than John Relyea did tonight).
Relyea looked smashing in his red leather suit and feathered cap, but I wish his singing had more of the French suavity required for the role. His serenade in Part III passed without note (or applause). After such a promising beginning as a young singer, his singing has become more throaty and constricted over the last few seasons. Marcello Giordani's singing was coarse and unstylish all evening, and his diction was unintelligible.
Sam is right about James Levine's conducting, and I also agree with Sam that it was distracting to watch the reflection of him conducting in the onstage screens all evening. I am sure no one in the production staff ever went upstairs to see if there would be reflection problems for those sitting in the gods....
Altogether a mixed bag - Berlioz's music and his orchestrations are constantly dazzling, and the ending was sublime, but the singing was more disappointing that one might wish. Still I wouldn't want to have missed this extraordinary event.