La damnation de Faust @ Oper Köln

I have an even earlier train to catch tomorrow! but i didn’t like the sloppy post last night as it did absolutely no justice to the wonderful conducting of Nathalie Stutzmann. Will come back and add more comment to that. So, let’s have a proper post here if possible..

This is one of the few works i know by heart (from listening). Usually for these pieces, it’s always great to hear live for the first time as you discover so many things happening in the orchestra and interaction between it and chorus / singers. Roughly you need three good singers for the main characters, a superb chorus, and a conductor’s idea and ability to shape the orchestra. Also, for mezzo-lovers, it’s decisively split into two and a half parts: I=no mezzo, II.1=mezzo , II.2=no mezzo. I’ll discuss the parts in order below.

Let’s start with the best: Samuel Youn as Méphistophélès. I put him above all because he has such a big role, and the moment he stepped on the stage, the ENTIRE concert lit up. Great voice, but most importantly, his phrasing, shaping, and characterization. There’s always a fine line again between over the top (ott!) and just right when it comes to portraying the devil, and he absolutely delivered. Actually while he gestured ordering the chorus to “Amen”, i realize how ironic attending this right after Messiah: small intimate orchestra + chorus versus flamboyant devil with *extravagant* horns + drums + harps and rowdy chorus. No wonder we are all going to hell, such fun!! 😀
If you know this piece at all, it starts with a gorgeous violin line followed by opening line of tenor. Honestly, I would prefer an entirely different Faust. Nothing wrong with the singing, but it’s just singing. I was thinking was it jet-lag again that i don’t digest the start.. which infiltrated into the Hungarian March.. read that again, _into_ the Hungarian March. That’s a third of part I and usually for me one of the most beautiful sections. Luckily the devil arrived just in time!
The chorus is extremely important in this piece, and it’s mixed.. at times they sang like in a flea market completely jumbled up (leading up to Hungarian March), yet at other times very precise and full of power.. While we talk about Hungarian March, this is also a good start to discuss conductor’s take. For the most part, i really like how Markus Poschner shaped the orchestra. At the start somehow everything sounded a bit off (?) in term of sound, could it be that my ears were adjusting to the tent? For the march, I think there’s a “reasonable” tempo somewhere that makes the piece sounds good as opposed to dragging or everyone dropping swords running over others. This version is somewhat a mix-bag, with particularly fast tempo toward the end where i had the feeling the horns + trumpets couldn’t keep up, so they sounded quite out of sync and chaotic. What can I say, everything really came together once Mr. Devil came to the scene :-).
For the orchestra, i need to google the name of the first violinist, an asian, similar haircut to mine, same height, SUPERB!!! 🙂 Again, for this piece, you need a lot of very precise bow movements to accentuate the mood change. The best memory I have is *to* this chorus (which, incidentally is also the best chorus I heard), the precise marching movement of violins are quite eye-opening.

Right, Part II. First, when Vesselina Kasarova is singing, I will always nicely upgrade myself to the best position in the hall if there’s a seat available :-). Already in part I I scanned the scene simply because of a very tall woman sitting right in front blocking my view.. and spotted a smack middle-seat 2 rows in front with absolutely no obstacle (row11seat35 to row9seat29), here’s the view:
My small regret for the evening: that I didn’t book ticket to see her 3 times singing this. But you know the way her schedule is changing by the day, I would go broke switching plane ticket every other day.. Ok, done lamenting. First, a question for the sound in the tent perhaps.. when started she sounded quite truncated. By that I mean you only hear some part of the sound but not the entire word. Second, it’s true her french is a bit strange :-). Marguerite has the opening scene (which if you haven’t heard already i posted almost twenty times here and on my channel) where she made the ascent En songe je l’ai vu… lui… mon futur amant, quite breath taking. I am always so much more in love with “Roi de Thulé” aria than the rest, the music is very melancholy, almost ironic if you realize her fate by the end.. The breathing stopped, for a moment i completely forgot where I was, transported to an external planet, alone to ponder life to the pulsation. Quite an experience. It also occurred to me whoever is discussing about her voice “problems” is not listening to her live singing Marguerite :-). The duet and trio are great, suuuch a pleasure watching her voice piercing through the tenor/bass combo on the side. Their positions in front of the orchestra, with her in the middle, helps greatly with sound balance (clearly after my move).
But I will also admit I don’t always fully digest her “D’amour l’ardente flamme” . For this occasion, again I’m wondering about the “truncation of sound” thing because some of her singing went “missing” even though you can see her movements.. Perhaps this is related to something Anik mentioned once about the timing of some vocal ?? that now takes longer to open and for the sound to come? One striking thing I remember thinking as soon as the opening phrase arrived is “poor Marguerite, she doesn’t know yet what will come..”. That is to say she completely inherited Marguerite you now feel for the character. Just to mention the one part that I love the most in HER version (both here and on weimar radio broadcast): exactly here (you will just have to watch the photos since her singing Marguerite has made it to all my slideshows in 2012)

Absolutely goose-bump inducing, especially in combo with the uplifting violins. Her last part, i will always get, “Il ne vient pas…”, sniff sniff..

So she was gone (no more singing but she remained on stage), the rest was up to Faust (I drifted!) and Méphistophélès (I cheered!). As the male chorus partied to Méphistophélès’ “Je suis vainqueur!” I celebrated! More horns, drums, bells, harps to round out the music. A fantastic evening!
I had the camera setting messed up with only bad photos so decided to switch on the movie function, here it is, the last performance of this run. Big applause. I waited a bit wanting to say hello to Frau K but she bursted out running with this woman-TV interviewer (the show where she sang a Bulgarian folk song as a birthday gift to one of the guests) so I didn’t intrude. That’s about it. I am glad to have made the trip, one which I almost skipped if not for the combo with Stutzmann/Orfeo55/Händel/Mingardo…

About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

8 Responses to La damnation de Faust @ Oper Köln

  1. dehggial says:

    told you Samuel Youn rocks. I also thought VK was in good voice even last month, so whatever whoever is saying, I didn’t hear it either. But interesting stuff about sound fragmentation. Imma have to watch the DVD, haven’t watched in ages.

    • thả diều says:

      yes, i have heard about him elsewhere too, was very glad to catch him in top form! re. VK’s voice “problems”: has been going on for a while complaints about her registers etc. But the “fragment” thing, you meant what i called “truncation” ? this seems to be a recent thing that i first heard in 2012 when she has to launch into high notes.. in dvd she should have absolutely no problem back then. At least in Munich i could hear her very well regardless of how long it took for her sound to arrive. Here it’s the first time i sit at level with orchestra so was wondering if that’s more the problem that sound doesn’t project out as well as up…

      • dehggial says:

        yea, the truncation. I’ve never heard about sound arriving late before, I guess I learned something new today 🙂 glad you had fun and thanks for the review.

  2. yvette says:

    I am happy to read you made it to this Dome which is not perhaps ideal for opera ? Last year I do not remember experimenting this sound delay at all. Yes I agree her French is sometimes special in her way of stressing some syllables which are perhaps not the ones under the stress but that is part of her charms! I am very fond of this opera and I still think I should have made the journey again… Thanks a lot for your account so true to what you feel and hear! It is like being there and catch VK in one of her favourite role.

  3. Ursula Hartlapp-Lindemeyer says:

    I am really glad that I heard this twice. Excellent cast,

  4. Tove S says:

    Thanks for the report, I’m so jealous! I hope at least I get the DVD for Christmas… I love how the music is so organic-sounding, and I don’t just mean that as a cliché, I mean it literally sounds like a body working – the most obvious example being the heart-beats in L’amour ardente flamme.
    I think I know what you mean about it taking a while for her voice to open up or for the sound to come – her voice is getting more dramatic and big, dramatic voices just need more time to start – I guess that’s why they usually sing slower songs with longer notes… 😉

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