Champagne Singers, Beer Pockets: Faust in Barcelona

SpainSpain C. Gounod, Faust: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Gran Teatre del Liceu, Pierre Vallet (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu, 11.10.2011 (JMI)

Concert Version

Faust: Piotr Beczala
Marguerite: Krassimira Stoyanova
Mephistopheles: Erwin Schrott
Valentin: Ludovic Tezier
Siebel: Karine Deshayes
Marthe: Julia Juon

Photo courtesy Liceu Barcelona, © A. Bofill

It would be difficult to understand why the Barcelona’s Liceau opera season, opening with as popular a title as Gounod’s Faust and an outstanding cast, is offered only as a concert version, if it were not for the financial dire straits that most cultural institutions are currently experiencing.

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C.Gounod, Faust,
Rizzi / Welsh NO / Hadley, Gasdia, Ramey, Fassbaender et al.

The Liceu concert offered all the arias (including the regularly cut aria of Marguerite’s, “Il ne revient pas”) and choruses while eliminating the recitatives and the first scene of the last act, the Walpurgis Night. Given the excellence of the cast, vocally and dramatically, it was a particular pity that this Faust was not fully staged—alas, one has to make due what one can get, in times like these.

If the voices made for a starry cast, the music did not live up to it. Edward Gardner had been scheduled to conduct but cancelled and he was eventually replaced by the virtually unknown Pierre Vallet whose performance was limited to accompany singers, without further merit. That meant that we attended an effective reading without much dramatic tension with the Liceu orchestra doing no more than necessary. At least the choir was excellent, as usual.

Dr. Faust was sung by Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, one the best singers around, who offered a magnificent performance. His tenor is wider than a few years ago and he is at his very best in these kinds of characters, which could be considered the ‘Alfredo Kraus repertoire’. He sang with gusto and elegance throughout the night, excellent at the top register that always clean, free, and with outstanding breath control.

The Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova made for a very remarkable Marguerite. Her full lyric soprano is a consistent and high quality instrument. She might not have the glamour of a diva like Mrs. Gheorghiu (as in Covent Garden’s Faust), but in vocal terms and all matters of subtlety Stoyanova bests her Romanian colleague.

The Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott, an extraordinary singing actor, gave life to Mephistopheles, which was easily noticeable even in a pure concert version. I found him more baritonal than before which would explain why he has been singing Count Almaviva lately, as he did in Salzburg, for example.

The fourth star was French baritone Ludovic Tezier, whose Valentine was also a luxury. His beautiful voice was smooth and well handled and it was a shame that the cuts in this version meant not hearing more from him than we did.

Karine Deshayes, a fine Siebel, sange only the couplets at Act III; too little for such a good artist. Julia Juon completed the cast as Marthe.

José Mª Irurzun