Radiant mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and dashing Italian tenor Marcello Giordani are unlucky lovers in La Damnation de Faust, Hector Berlioz’s classic take on dancing with the devil, Saturday, February 28 at noon (ET) on Great Performances at the Met (check local listings). Presented by THIRTEEN in 5.1 digital surround sound on PBS HD, the new Met production is conducted by Music Director James Levine and conceived by visionary Canadian director Robert Lepage.
Nearly stealing the show: handsome young Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea as a most persuasive Méphistophélès.
“Stunning,” wrote The New York Times of Lepage’s breakthrough use of video imagery, depicting everything from a grassy field to a fiery hell. Also lauded were Graham’s “rapturous richness and elegant restraint,” Giordani’s “ardor and intelligence” and Relyea’s “wily, seductive lyricism.”
Based on Goethe’s Faust Part I, the work retells the timeless tale of the devil-dealing title character (Giordani) who ultimately barters his soul for the salvation of his beloved Marguerite (Graham). In one of music’s most chilling exits, he and his diabolical nemesis gallop to hell in Berlioz’s celebrated, and fearsome, “Ride to the Abyss.”
Perhaps best known today as the composer of the bizarrely delightful Symphonie Fantastique (1838), Hector Berlioz toiled relentlessly in the field of opera. Although slow to find their places in the world’s repertory, these efforts included Benvenuto Cellini (1838) and his masterpiece, Les Troyens (1858). La Damnation de Faust, which he termed a “légende dramatique” and not written for the stage, was first performed in Paris in 1846.
Director Lepage, in his Met debut, has reconceived the production he originally created for Japan’s Saito Kinen Festival and the Opéra National de Paris. The new staging features enhanced media and technology that was previously not available – some of which was developed by Lepage and his Quebec-based company, Ex Machina. The entire production team makes its Met debut with the production: set designer Carl Fillion, costume designer Karin Erskine, lighting designer Sonoyo Nishikawa, choreographers Johanne Madore and Alain Gautier, and video designers Holger Foerterer and Boris Firquet.
Great Performances at the Met: La Damnation de Faust, the third of 11 productions to air this season on the series, is sung in French with English surtitles. The libretto is adapted from Goethe by Berlioz and Almire Gandonnière. It was recorded on stage in performance November 22, 2008, as part of The Met: Live in HD series. Barbara Willis Sweete directs, with Susan Graham as opening host and baritone Thomas Hampson stepping in at intermission. Jay Saks is audio producer.
Great Performances is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public television viewers, and PBS. Corporate support for Great Performances at the Met is provided by Toll Brothers. Telecast funding for La Damnation de Faust is provided by Donald G. Sisler.