Notizie da Vienna: FAUST (Gounod) 12.5.2014

Piotr Beczala | Le Docteur Faust
Erwin Schrott | Méphistophélès
Adrian Eröd | Valentin
Sonya Yoncheva | Marguerite
Jongmin Park | Wagner
Stephanie Houtzeel | Siébel
Aura Twarowska | Marthe

Bertrand de Billy | Dirigent

Nicolas Joel | Inszenierungskonzept  /  Stephane Roche | Regie

Nuance, nuance, nuance.

This was the third and last performance of the Faust-series which was to have featured Anna „Marguerite-is-not-for-me“ Netrebko as Beczala´s soprano partner. Listening to recent live-excerpts one easily hears that not only would she not have sung this part well, she would not have managed to sing it at all.

Beczala surely has a first-rate voice, which fits well the French repertoire and he could make a fine Faust. – Was it not for his way of singing. The voice has become thicker and has lost much of its original beam and elasticity. The top is there but not entirely free and radiant, the sound is not really „clean“ and polished. „Salut, mon dernier matin“ and „Maudites soyez vous, ô voluptés humaines!“ sound laboured and „a moi les plaisirs“ has not enough elasticity and verve. „O merveille“ was beautiful, however. How one would have wished for more mezza voce and a bit voix mixte – more nuance in general. Way too much is just sung out fully such as was „Salut demeure“ which he sang „in tono“, but with little imaginativeness. Both times „que de richEEsse“ had bad scooping and towards the end of the aria he sounded forced and scratchy, the full and ringing C was secure but he took no risks holding it only for a short time and no diminuendo. His major problem has become a far from ideal handling of the passaggio area, where he drives the voice full force to the top. Whenever he tries to reduce the volume in the high middle range it falls back into the throat and starts to sound a little like Jonas Kaufmann´s choked mezze voci. In the love-duet he tried to convey the required poetry and softness for „o nuit d´amour“, but it cost him considerable effort to keep up the consistent and even flow of the vocal line. You can hear that the way he is singing and his vocal production costs him a lot of strength and is very tiring for him. He arrives at the end of the performance sounding considerably tired.

Pretty much the same can be said of Sonja Yoncheva. A young and strong voice with all the freshness and energy of youth, but not entirely ready for the challenges and pitfalls of the kind of full speed career she has been undertaking during the past 2-3 years. There is a hint of the young Mirella Freni, but Yoncheva´s voice is less homogenous and consistent. – A good-sized lyric soprano with good agility. The middle range is beautiful and secure, but she is driving the high range too much and too often. Too much emphasis on the high register starts to show its first signs: the top notes tend to loose a little focus and sound a little fluttery and harsh. Both „Roi de Thulé“ and „Il ne revient pas“ seem a little low for her. Though she sings correctly, she really does not get a message across, she conveys very little. The Jewel song is better, of course. Here, it is all in the notes – all she has to do was rely on the flow of the music and show off her dashing high register and the top notes. The church scene and the finale drove her close to her limits. More or less shouting she drove her voice through „anges pures“ – no reserves left.

Faust-Schrott-x-300x257Schrott is his usual self on stage: exaggerated stage presence, macho-like with bare breast, red fan and too little regard to the notes he has to sing. His French could be much better, I am sure, if he tried a little harder. He is very much trying to put his individual stamp on this Méphistophélès, but then again, he makes little of phrases like „o nuit, étends sur eux ton ombre“ or „vous qui faites l´endormie“ remaining plain with little suggestive power. He is loud and rumorous, but with little real vocal authority.

I have always found Adrian Eröd a fine singer, but with somewhat little personality in the French and Italian repertoire. He is the only one who tries to find some shades and nuances and who has at least some vague idea what French singing is about and his is the best French diction on stage this evening. Yet, the voice is very light, almost thin, it has hardly any „beef“ or cutting edge. – one is tempted to ask: is it a real operatic voice at all? He lacks vocal weight and incisiveness – after all Valentin is a soldier.

Stephanie Houtzeel´s Siebel was ok, but boring – especially the second aria. A pretty little voice, absolutely insignificant as a character though, with some nice notes in the middle register both high register and lower one poorly developed. Blurred diction caused by inadequate vocal placement and little „punta“.

Aura Twarowska´s Marthe was on the verge of being unbearable. Bertrand de Billy conducted Gounod´s music with élan and verve, but little finesse. Opting more for effect than for nuance. All in all not a totally dissappointing evening, but no real satisfaction either. What strikes one most is the total absence (with all too few exceptions) of nuance, finesse and imaginative singing. All sung out full volume, much heavyness, little poetry, little suggestive interpretation of the music and the text. There is so much more to a carefully studied vocal performance in general and in this case to French style singing. „A baby born in a stable is not a horse.“ – a fitting quote by British music critic, Michael Scott, to illustrate, that in general it is not the nationality of a singer which decides whether or not he is suited to a certain singing style or not. It all has to do with musicality and a feeling for the style of the music one has to sing and a readiness to open one´s ears to the sound of a foreign language. We have talked about the French singing style and its three pillars before on the occasion of the „Manon“-convent scene with Heldy and Vallin: „Diction, élégance, clarté.“ For the „ascolti“ here, we have all non-French singers from all around the world and although they may have their imperfections, too, you will find all of them (even though not all singing in French) fitting the French idiom and meeting the demands of French style singing. So the point is not so much: „Where are you born?”, but „How hard are you willing to try?“

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1-13 Il Était Un Roi De Thulé (1929 Victor) Elisabeth Rethberg

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