Saturday, April 28, 2007

Berlioz's Damnation of Faust

Thursday night I was at Davies Hall for the SF Symphony performance of The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz, led by Charles Dutoit. At over 2 hours with no intermssion, it's long for a symphony night but short for an opera. It's an extravagant show, with soloists, large orchestra & chorus, & it gets even bigger at the end when, in a theatrical moment, the boys & girls choruses enter & fill up the terrace for the final moments.

Very good performances from all the soloists. Willard White's Mephistopheles was the stand out. His voice is deep, large, round & slightly metallic, & he acts with both his voice & his movements.

The tenor Gregory Kunde was also very dramatic. At moments the part is very high, & I felt like he took risks to get those high notes out without belting. I saw mezzo Ruxandra Donose as Poppea at the SF opera several years ago. I remembered her as very attractive & very affecting, & I had the same reaction this night. Her singing of the story of the King of Thule was appropriately melancholy.

I liked Dutoit's conducting. I felt he was in control of the character of the music at all times. He's always well ahead of the orchestra. Sometime he shapes the orchestra's playing by not conducting at all. There were great solos from the English horn & the viola. The violas might be the best section in the orchestra these days. During the applause, I saw our English horn soloist get a pat on the back from her stand partner.

Though a few people bailed towards the end, the audience was very quiet & not at all restless. A couple of times there was applause during the performance from one or 2 patrons, but otherwise the audience withheld its reaction until the very end. I actually wouldn't have minded some applause during the performance. It would have made it feel more like an opera.

No comments: