(c) Opéra de Paris

The new lyric productions of the Paris Opera continue on but do not resemble each other. After an exciting Moise und Aron and a Castle Bluebeard/La Voix Humaine which was very average, the audience was able to discover a Damnation de Faust which has raised strong reactions.

Latvian Director Alvis Hermanis is to propose an immense setting in pictures. With a score that obviously is not a homogeneous opera but a series of scenes Alvis Hermanis’s video projections split up even more action and narration.

Hermanis has transferred Faust in a 21st futuristic century. The character of Stephen Hawking is used as a double for Faust, incarnating the desire to transcend the human destiny by scientific research. The performer, dancer Dominique Mercy, the leader of Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Theater, trundles across the stage in a wheelchair during the whole three hours in order to play the part of the quadriplegic scientist. It is only during the last moments of the play that he leaves his imprisoned body to stand up, rather awkwardly, in front of the public, while Faust takes his place in the wheelchair.

The other contestable metaphor is the robot Mars Explorer crossing the stage in front of video projections extracted from a botany collection. The public is drenched with close-ups of natural flowers and landscapes in the style of a vast animalism documentary. Undoubtedly it was not necessary to make Sophie Koch sing “love, the burning flame” while showing on the giant screen two copulating snails. The public laughs and is justly angry. Irritation and incomprehension from the public also when the very agitated choreographies by Alla Sigalova are shown. The dancers wiggle and agitate in glass cages without anyone really understanding why.

There is much satisfaction however with the voices. Jonas Kaufmann dominates the vast acoustics of the Bastille Opera, but his Faust remains more coloured than really powerful. In the second series of the representations, he will be replaced by Bryan Hymel, who will not fail to create a vocal contrast. The great surprise of this evening is Bryn Terfel’s Mephistopheles. Excellent acting gives it a very broad projection. Remarkable as Brander, Edwin Crossley-Mercer would have however deserved a larger role. Sophie Koch’s Marguerite is put in a difficult situation on several occasions with regard to the intelligibility of the pronunciation. The voice is rough and unmethodical, particularly in Le Roi de Thulé.

Under the baton of Philippe Jordan, the orchestra of the Paris Opera is surprisingly pale and remains at the very surface of the score. Not the best sign for Jordan’s upcoming Berlioz cycle…       David Verdier

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