[Met Tour] CID:229320

Cleveland Public Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio, Thu, May 4, 1972

Review 1:

Review of John von Rhein in the Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal

Met Still Has Trouble With French Opera

For some reason beyond my comprehension, the Metropolitan Opera hasn't had much luck with French Romantic opera, at least during the last half of the Bing dynasty. Last season's "Werther" foundered under the weight of miscast superstars and a stylistic identity-crisis. The "Romeo et Juliette" of a few seasons back was almost as inconsiderately cast and lacked Gallic perfume. The notorious Jean-Louis Barrault "Carmen" turned out to be gimmicky, garish and blatantly misconceived.

Now you can add another Gallic grand-opera to the above list of Met losers; "Faust." The Gounod warhorse limped into Public Auditorium Thursday night saddled with a tacky production, a mostly lackluster roster of singers and an uninspired routinier in the pit. All this from the same folks who gave us "Daughter of the Regiment" and "Fidelio" the previous nights. Sad sad sad.

Again, M. Barrault is the designer [sic], and again he seems addicted to clumsy symbolism and given to vacillating from one stylistic perspective to another. This "Faust" is a confused hodgepodge of subconscious erotic visions, realistic sets, abstract sets, stylized sets, lusty worldliness, sentimental religiosity, and so on. There is little dramatic thrust of logic about this production and even less sense of clear artistic purpose. And the elderly bargain-basement scenery and costumes don't help a bit.

With the exception of Placido Domingo, the cast is the same one can hear going through the motions - and little else - on a typical slack matinee in Lincoln Center. When Domingo turns his lustrous tenor loose on the title role, the results may not always be authentic Gounod, but they most certainly are models of ardent, beautifully shaped and colored vocalism. The singer's range, from C to shining C, is awesome. The tone is always rich and full, with none of the nasality which often afflicts male singers doing French music. He spun out Faust's long lyrical lines Thursday night with a poise and authority unmarred by his as yet incomplete command of French diction. One rarely hears "Salut! Demeure" sung with such pearly tone, freedom and caressing warmth. And Domingo rose to the more dramatic moments with equal finesse. What was lacking at times in Gallic elegance was amply offset by the tenor's sheer vocal heft, brilliance, and élan. His stage deportment could stand some refinement, however, but this may be the fault of director Bodo Igesz.

It is painful enough to observe the decline in Anna Moffo's vocal estate, let alone hear her essay a role which she really has no business singing. She could almost get by taking Marguerite's "Spinning Song" at a slow mezza-voce; the results were attractive if barely audible. But the soprano was almost totally out of her depth in the gustier moments. The "Jewel Song" was tentative and fluttery, and she could only make screechy stabs at the top notes of the closing "Trio." Add to this a rather somnolent characterization (Igesz again?) and you have the whole unhappy picture.

Ruggero Raimondi swaggered, swooped and leered like a good-bad Mephistopheles should. There was also a nice edge of sardonic suavity to his vocal villainy. But though his singing was muscianly, his sense of line admirable, the voice lacked the richness and distinction - that black-velvet basso mellowness - which the role ideally demands.

Doing his blustery thing is a rather geriatric Valentin was Robert Merrill. Frederica von Stade, darting about the stage in constant, pointless animation, sang a breathy Siebel. Monica Sinclair was a rather wobbly Marthe, Gene Boucher the capable Wagner. Under Kurt Adler's unadventurous baton, the music advanced on square wheels. The third-act "Soldier's Chorus," ludicrously sung glee-club fashion at the stage apron, sounded rather harsh.

As if Flemming Flindt's cutesy-pie Kermesse choreography weren't embarrassing enough, we were treated to a marathon Walpurgis-night balletic orgy - complete with lecherous demons, sexy sacrificial rites, writhing, semi-clad temptresses, and lots of simulated couplings - which only served to bog down the evening in campy vulgarity. The large audience, which included a large segment of students, seemed to love everything. To distraction.

Tonight: Onward to "Otello." And not a minute too soon.

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