Wednesday, June 09, 2010

SFO: Faust

San Francisco Opera
Faust by Charles Gounod

Faust: Stefano Secco
Marguerite: Patricia Racette
Méphistophélès: John Relyea
Valentin: Brian Mulligan
Siebel: Daniela Mack
Marthe: Catherine Cook
Wagner: Austin Kness

Conductor: Maurizio Benini
Director: Jose Maria Condemi

Tue Jun 8 2010 7:30pm

The SF Opera's summer production of Gounod's Faust is safely conventional-looking. It has an early 19th century setting, & the stage design is simple & clear, each scene bordered by the same brick & stone arches. It all looks nice, if a bit prosaic. I was confused & distracted by the hooded monks who came & went during the church scene, so I felt like the direction was not quite right for this important scene.

At the beginning, tenor Stefano Secco's high notes sounded like they were coming out of a very small opening that then suddenly widened. This little peculiarity diminished as the evening progressed, though his high notes always seemed a bit disconnected from the rest of his voice. John Relyea gave an enjoyably hammy performance as the devil, his voice dark & masculine. I liked his operatic demonic laughter & his enthusiastic fake violin playing. Patricia Racette has a charismatic stage presence, but, with her wide vibrato & sometimes hard-edged sound, she does not project youthful innocence. I found this jarring in the garden scene, in which her voice did not not get around the jaunty contours of the Jewel Song easily. She was much more dramatically effective in later scenes, however.

My favorite performance was Brian Mulligan's Valentin. His farewell scene in the 1st Act was beautifully sung. His voice was seamless, had a fullness to it, & yet it always seemed like he had even more to give. He was just as thrilling in his final scene, full of both ardor & anger. It reminded me that these were also my favorite moments in a Faust I saw in Walnut Creek last year. Perhaps Valentin is the best role in the opera.

The orchestra sounded great, with fine solos from the clarinet & oboe. I could not help noticing the beautiful tone of the flute as well. Conductor Maurizio Benini maintained good orchestral balances & terraced dynamics, but I found his conducting a bit measured & lacking in climaxes. The audience was quite moderate in its response this evening. While they clapped as soon as Maestro Benini entered the pit, the applause ran out before he reached the podium. Many of the big scenes were met with complete silence as well.

Although I thought I was the Web's most low-profile blogger, I was recognized by someone in standing room & had to admit that Axel & myself do look somewhat alike. During the intermissions I was pleasantly diverted by accounts of the LA Opera Ring from The Opera Tattler & John Marcher.

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