Damnation of Faust

I was disappointed in attending Berlioz’ opera this morning, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again at the Encore performance on Wednesday, Dec 3.

That’s not an oxymoron. “Disappointed” does not refer to the quality of the performance, but to the relation between the expectation and the reality. Overall, I thought it was a very satisfying experience. But I had never seen any of Berlioz’ operas before and was basing my high expectations on his orchestral works, notably his Symphonie Fantastique. So I am looking forward to seeing it again next week, this time with more reasonable expectations. Another factor — possibly the major one — is that I’m not always ready for opera at 10 in the morning, and there were times when my attention wandered and my eyes wanted to close.

The technical effects were fantastic. The back of the stage consisted of several stories (at least 4) with vertical pillars dividing each story into a dozen or so balconies. Singers could and did move freely from one room to another behind the pillars, but frequently they did not move and you saw several dozen little “boxes” with 3 or 4 people in each. Sometimes there were vertical ladders to get from one story to another. In at least one scene chorus members descended levels in rope harnesses, sometimes appearing to be dancing upside down.

As always with the Met the voices were excellent, but I wouldn’t give any of the three principals an “A” for Acting. Marcello Giordani as Faust was a typical old-fashioned tenor: not tall, not slender, a face that showed only that he was singing, and not much in the way of footwork. Susan Graham had a bit more facial expression, but it took a lot of imagination to believe that she was a sixteen-year old maiden. John Relyes was a passable Mephistofeles, but not in the same league as Samuel Ramy. The choruses were tremendous, particularly the men’s chorus in Hell at the end. Bathed in an eerie red light you only saw them from the waist up — and not a stitch of clothing in sight.

I’ve now see three of the “Faust” operas and my favorite by far is Boito’s Mefistofeles. As of now, I’d rank Gounod’s Faust second, but I reserve the right to change my mind after next week. Dramatically, the three of them make a great trilogy, telling the same story but each emphasizing a different character. Gounod’s opera has the wrong title, since Marguerite is his leading character.

Today was the penultimate event of an intensive theatrical 8 days for me. Tuesday I saw Opera San Jose’s great production of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love. Thursday Ballet San Jose presented a full-length ballet Toreador — a simple love story but with some interesting characters and some well done pantomime interspersed with the dances.

Last night we saw the Gunn High School production of Freidrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit. This was a special treat for me because my daughter Lisa designed, built, and maintains the theatre’s web site, my granddaughter Rivka was stage manager, my grandson Josh made a 38 second video ad for the website and had two speaking parts in the play, and my granddaughter Eve was house manager and also on the lighting crew and props crew. Me Proud.

Finally, this coming Tuesday our Thespian group will read Tennessee Williams surreallist play, Camino Real. Me Busy.

love to all – – Grampa, etc.

11/22/08

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