Des McAnuff makes his Met debut in a production that premiered at the English National Opera. McAnuff's concept is to update Faust to the first half of the twentieth century. Faust is not just a romantic lover but also a scientist. In the production Faust travels back in time in order to try and relive his life. He goes back and sees the two World Wars. Although his pact with the Devil is overcome by his love, he still meets with death in the final moments of McAnuff's production, which return us to the gloomy laboratory of the opening scene. When the production premiered in September 2010, the production received mixed reviews. Critics stated that the production for not asking questions and for being too safe. In addition they stated that the weakest part of the production are the set pieces such as the waltzes and chorus ensembles making the production theatrically disappointing.
While the production may not have been a total successful at the English National Opera, the Met has put together a thrilling cast.
Jonas Kaufmann leads the cast with his smoldering lyric tenor. After triumphing in Siegmund, Kaufmann returns to the lyric repertoire to show his versatility. Kaufmann is known for his Italian, French and German repertoire and he has already triumphed in Tosca and Carmen at the Met as well as Travaita. Kaufmann hasn't sung Faust in years but he possesses the right voice for the role. His voice while dark has a solid middle register, and booming top notes. He is capable of producing subtle pianissmos and thrilling high notes thus phrasing like the tenors of the golden age. In addition to his voice Kaufmann is a committed actor capable of bringing audiences to many emotional states. He should be a successful Faust.
Robert Alagna and Joseph Calleja take over in January. Alagna no longer has the top register or heft to play Faust. However he specializes in French which is a plus because he knows the style of the music. The last time he sang Faust Alagna was hailed for his ardent singing but critics did note that he was vocally uneven. He may not be a polished Faust but acting wise he will be incredible.Joseph Calleja has one of the most beautiful voices to appear in the last decade. His voice is a lyrical voice with beautiful ringing high notes. His phrasing is subtle and his singing provides energy and charisma. However he has yet to demonstrate why he is one of the promising tenors of the future. In addition he is unable to express emotions and his acting lacks energy. However, I am sure Calleja will be a vocally successful Faust if nothing else.
Marina Poplavskaya once again benefits from Angela Gheorghiu's Diva behavior. Gheorghiu who was originally scheduled for the opera, withdrew because she was artistically against the production. As a result Poplavskaya was given the task to sing Marguerite. Poplavskaya made a name for herself last year when she took on none other two Verdi heroines, Violetta in La Traviata and Elisabetta in Don Carlo. Poplavskaya possesses a spinto soprano. She does not have a natural french or Italianate voice that most are used to. Instead her voice can sound strident at times and metallic. However it has warmth in her middle and lower register something that helps for the role of Marguerite. Her top range is sometimes insecure and her coloratura is sloppy. Marguerite may not be a coloratura soprano role but it is a lyric role which requires security at the top. The major question is can Poplavskaya bring depth and warmth to Marguerite as well as emotion. This is something Poplavskaya lacks even though she is a brilliant actress. She can be cold at times. Having seen her in Don Carlo she was static and looked bored. Can Poplavskaya finally launch her stardom this year or will she simply remain an understudy for sopranos like Gheorghiu.
Rising stars Kate Lindsay, Michele Losier, Russell Braun and George Petean round out the cast in the roles of Valentin and Siebel. They should make for youthful incarnations of the roles.
The cast should make for a pleasant night even if the production is a let down.
This is part of the live in HD transmissions at the Met. DECCA will most release this production.