It’s quite unusual for a production to be released twice on video but that’s what has happened with David McVicar’s production of Gounod’s Faust for the Royal Opera House. It was originally released in 2010 with a cast that included Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorghiu. It’s now been released again in a revival directed by Bruno Ravella with a cast headlined by Michael Fabiano, Erwin Schrott and Irina Lungu filmed in 2019.
I guess there are two ways one can approach “Gothic Horror”. Either one takes its conventions at face value as in, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or one treats it tongue in cheek; Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey of the BBC Dracula from earlier this year. It’s no surprise that in La nonne sanglante Gounod very much takes things at face value and, equally unsurprisingly chucks in a fair amount of Catholic religiosity complete with the unlikeliest characters wandering off to Heaven at the end.
The 2016 Salzburg recording of Gounod’s Faust is challenging. Perhaps the nine pages of the booklet given over to a concept discussion with the directors should have given me sufficient warning that this was not going to be Faust à la Met. It’s not. It’s extremely complex and I’m not sure I fully understand it or whether all the ideas work but I did find it fascinating visually and dramatically, and musically it’s top notch. That said, traditionalists can save themselves a trip to the ER by walking away now.
I’m ambiguous about Italian regional houses in general but what I’ve seen of the Teatro Regio Torino has impressed. They have a fine orchestra and a chorus that can sing and act and they are not afraid to take risks. All of that is very much in evidence on their recording of Gounod’s Faust made in 2015. The production is designed, directed and choreographed by Stefano Poda and, like rather a lot of his work, it’s long on big architectural statements and large scale stage pictures.
Layla Claire is one of a handful of young Canadian singers making something of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with major roles in Glyndebourne, Zürich, Toronto and Salzburg and an upcoming Pamina at the Met. Her debut recital CD Songbird, with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, was recently issued on the ATMA Classique label. It’s an interesting and varied collection of songs though never straying very far from familiar recital territory. It’s tilted towards French (Gounod, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Bizet) and German (Wolf, Strauss, Brahms, Liszt) repertoire but there’s also Quilter, Barber, Argento and Britten (the comparatively rare Seascape which is, oddly, omitted from the CD liner).
Aida Garifullina is a young lyric soprano of Tatar origin who already has some interesting achievements under her belt. She played Lily Pons in the Florence Foster Jenkins movie, placed first at Operalia in 2013, has sung a string of -ina roles at the Marinsky and is currently a member of the ensemble at the Wiener Staatsoper. She’s also done concert work with the likes of Dmitri Hvostorovsky and Andrea Bocelli. Now she’s released a debut CD called Aida Garifullina recorded with the ORF Radio-Symponieorchester Wien and Cornelius Meister.
Chelsea Rus is a recent graduate of the Schulich Scool of Music at McGill University and winner of the Wirth Vocal prize. Today, along with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone, she gave a recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. I like that it was all song bar the opening number; “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Hearing young singers belt out the same few Mozart and bel canto standards gets a bit tedious. Anyway this was one of those recitals that started quite well and just got better as things progressed. Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire are, I suppose, a bit of fluff but they allowed Chelsea to show off a rather lovely middle voice and good French diction, though the registers are still not fully integrated. Even better was Liszt’s Oh! quand je dors. Here she showed just how expressive she can be.
So the Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a Shakespeare themed show called A Shakespeare Serenade. Curated and directed by Patrick Hansen of McGill it fell into two parts. Before the interval we got Shakespeare scenes acted out and then the equivalent scene from an operatic adaptation of the play. After the interval it was a mix of Sonnets and song settings in an overall staging that was perhaps riffing off The Decameron. Patrick Hansen and Michael Shannon alternated at the piano.
I met with Alaina Viau, Artistic Director of Loose TEA Theatre, earlier today to discuss her upcoming show Dissociative Me; a transladaptation™(*) of Gounod’s Faust. We started by exploring the reasons why one might choose transladaptation rather than either a “straight” production or simply a radical restaging à la Herheim or Tcherniakov. The starting point for Alaina, one that I completely share, is that certain works are so problematic that they can’t realistically be presented “straight” and still do the things that “art” is supposed to do; stimulate, challenge etc. If a work contains elements that have so radically changed meaning since the original composition that one must treat it as a museum piece or intellectually disengage to make a piece tolerable then, we both believe, something has to be done. I realise that there are those who can enjoy, for instance, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; a squalid tale of paedophilia and sex tourism, at a superficial level but count me out there.
Gounod’s Mireille is a bit of a rarity and with good reason. It’s got everything that modern audiences find hard to take in 19th century French opera. It’s revoltingly wholesome with a bit of the supernatural, some patriarchal nastiness and a whole lot of Catholic schmaltz thrown in culminating in a final scene where the dying heroine (of course the heroine dies!) is carried off to heaven by angels while everybody else is suitably pious. It also has some pretty good tunes and a fiendishly difficult soprano lead part.