This staging of the 1846 Hector Berlioz "l_gende dramatique," resplendent with top talent and 21st century technology, marks the director's Met debut.
A massive accomplishment in most every respect, to call this production an ambitious undertaking is truly an understatement. The five-part performance boasts three of operas greatest modern stars, lavish scenic design on the grandest of scales, and a chorus and dance ensemble that could populate a small country.
Berlioz began work on the opera in 1828 upon re-reading the Goethe masterpiece, initially composing "Eight Scenes from Faust," which would become his Opus 1. It wasn't until 1845 that he returned to the material while on a concert tour, subsequently expanding it into a "concert opera" and, finally, the five-part epic that is now performed.
It was the Met that gave the work its U.S. premiere- first in the form of an 1896 concert and, a decade later, in a fully-staged production during the 1906-1907 season. The current mounting marks the first time it has been performed by the Met since that premiere.
This revitalized Faust stars acclaimed Italian tenor Marcello Giordani as the legendary scholar in search of eternal youth. He is joined by star American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as the coveted village girl Marguerite and Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea as the most devilish of characters in opera: Mephistopheles.
According to Early Met Press Notes:
Noted director Robert Lepage made his Met debut with a technologically innovative new production of Hector Berlioz's masterpiece, La Damnation de Faust, which opened Nov 7. Music Director James Levine conducts the first staging of the work at the Met since 1906, with Marcello Giordani in the title role, Susan Graham as Marguerite, and John Relyea as M_phistoph_ls. La Damnation de Faust was transmitted worldwide as part of The Met: Live in HD series on Saturday, Nov. 22.
Lepage has reconceived the production he originally created for Japan's Saito Kinen Festival and the Op_ra National de Paris. The new staging features enhanced media and technology that was not previously available - some of which was developed by Lepage and his Quebec-based company, Ex Machina. The entire production team is making its Met debut: set designer Carl Fillion, costume designer Karin Erskine, lighting designer Sonoyo Nishikawa, the choreographers Johanne Madore and Alain Gautier, and video designers Holger Foerterer and Boris Firquet.
In this innovative production, performers' movements, as well as their voices, will set video projections in motion. "Because I was interested in finding a meeting point between the theatricality of opera and the cinematic world," Lepage said, "I have to create this kind of portal where those two ways of telling stories would meet. The whole idea is not to create images that are overwhelming and overpowering, eclipsing the music. On the contrary, all the visuals should be triggered by the music." Lepage used similar technology for Kêã, his multi-media work for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. Met audiences will see more of his unusual approach when the director unveils his new production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, beginning in the 2010-2011 season. "La Damnation de Faust is an opportunity for us to set the basis of the visual language and the technologies and interactive technologies that are going to be used in the Ring," he says.
About the Performers
Earlier this season, the renowned Italian tenor Marcello Giordani reprised the role of Pinkerton in Anthony Minghella's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. He made headlines on Nov. 22 when he performed two leading Met roles in a single day. Following a matinee performance in this Faust he stepped in for an ailing Roberto Aronica to sing Butterfly that evening.
In the span of less than six months last season at the Met, Giordani appeared in five operas. He sang Edgardo in Mary Zimmerman's new production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, which opened the season; Rom_o in Gounod's Rom_o et Juliette (replacing an ailing colleague on short notice); added the title role in Verdi's Ernani to his Met repertoire; and appeared in two Puccini works, as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut.
Susan Graham, who made her Met role debut as Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni earlier this season, returns to the part she performed nine years ago in Lepage's production of La Damnation de Faust in Japan. Last season she sang the title role in the new production of Gluck's Iphig_nie en Tauride, and for the first time at the Met was Sesto in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. Among the parts in her wide-ranging Met career are two trouser roles by Richard Strauss: Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos.
John Relyea appeared in two new productions at the Met last season: as Raimondo in Lucia and as Banquo in Macbeth. He sang Garibaldo in the Met's 2004 premiere of Handel's Rodelinda, as well as Don Basilio in Bartlett Sher's ebullient new production of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which was shown in The Met: Live in HD series.
Giordani will open 2009 in Barcelona with a stint as Gabriele in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Graham's next major operatic engagement is Charlotte in Massenet's Werther at Paris' Op_ra National this February. Relyea will perform Verdi's Requiem with the London Symphony Orchestra Jan 11-17 under the baton of Sir Colin Davis.
La Damnation de Faust plays its final performance December 4 at 8 PM, conducted by Derrick Inouye. As of press time, a handful of tickets remain available.
Visit the Metropolitan Opera Website for more information.
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All photos by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera.