Piotr Beczala Proves to Be an Artistic Heir to Alfredo Kraus in Teatro Real’s Faust

SpainSpain Gounod, Faust: Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra/Dan Ettinger (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 22 & 23.9.2018. (JMI)

Gounod’s Faust © J. del Real

Faust – Piotr Beczala/Ismael Jordi
Marguerite – Marina Rebeka/Irina Lungu
Méphistophélès – Luca Pisaroni/Erwin Schrott
Valentin – Stéphane Degout/John Chest
Siebel – Serena Malfi/Annalisa Stroppa
Marthe – Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo/Diana Montague
Wagner – Isaac Galán

Director – Álex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus)
Sets – Alfons Flores
Costumes – Lluc Castells
Lighting – Urs Schönebaum

The Teatro Real opera season has opened with this popular Charles Gounod title, which has not been done here for the past 15 years. At that time, the main interpreters were a young Achilles Machado and the American tenor Richard Leech, who were accompanied by the illustrious Roberto Scandiuzzi and Mariella Devia.

This 2018 production had its premiere in Amsterdam in May 2014, and it has taken more than four years for it to reach the Teatro Real. The director is Alex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus), and his concept is somewhat irregular. The action has been brought to modern times, where Doctor Faustus is responsible for a computer research center; there’s a group of female robots there who become nurse robots for the Soldiers Chorus. The least successful scene is Walpurgis Night, where ridiculous characters dance to ballet music. A series of moveable elements are reconfigured for the different scenes, the best of which takes place in the Church. The costumes are modern though a bit odd, and the lighting is good.

The stage direction seems to focus more on crowd movements than on the soloists. But, in general, it’s an acceptable production that narrates the plot well – with some excesses here and there.

The musical direction was entrusted to Dan Ettinger. I’ve seen him numerous times in Munich, and he has always seemed an efficient conductor although not particularly inspired. I had the same impression this time: his reading was very dramatic, and the orchestral volume was sometimes excessive. He drew a remarkable performance from the Teatro Real orchestra, and the Teatro Real Chorus showed exemplary power and tuning.

Faust was interpreted in the first cast by Piotr Beczala, and his performance was excellent. He has one of the most attractive voices today and is a singer of rare elegance, perfectly suited to the character of Faust. He shone right from the opera’s beginning and handled his voice perfectly, with no problems in the high notes as he ably demonstrated in both the aria ‘Salut, demeure chaste et pure’ and in the final trio. In my opinion he is the true heir of Alfredo Kraus, and I cannot think of a better contemporary interpreter of Faust.

The second Faust was Ismael Jordi, who once again showed excellent taste in his singing. Faust is a fairly new character for Jordi (he had sung it only a year ago in his native Jerez), but he showed a fine knowledge of the score and handled the highest notes with ease. Obviously, he does not have the timbre of Piotr Beczala but few do. That does not prevent one from thinking his performance was remarkable.

Marguerite was sung by soprano Marina Rebeka, who also gave an outstanding performance in terms both of singing and acting. She was especially good in Act III in the aria of the jewels and in the duet with Faust, and she was perfect in the church scene and in the aria ‘Il ne revient pas’.

In the second cast, Marguerite was played by soprano Irina Lungu, who did very well in the part. Her vocal resources are below those of Marina Rebeka both in quantity and quality, but that doesn’t prevent one from admiring her performance.

Luca Pisaroni as Méphistophélès was convincing on stage, although vocally he comes up a bit short: his voice is not particularly strong and he wasn’t helped by all the sound coming from the pit. For my taste the character requires a darker voice than his. He makes a better impression in Baroque opera and Mozart, as we have seen so many times.

In the second cast, Erwin Schrott was a terrific performer on stage and has a wider voice than Luca Pisaroni’s. But, as with Pisaroni, I have to say that I prefer a darker voice in the part. It is curious to watch the vocal evolution of this singer who is becoming more and more a baritone.

French baritone Stéphane Degout was an irreproachable Valentine, well suited to the needs of the character and remarkable in his two arias: a successful debut at Teatro Real. I was less excited by John Chest in the second cast.

Serena Malfi did well as Siebel, although I found her tighter at the top than before. In the second cast, Annalisa Stroppa was fine in the role. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo was a remarkable Marthe, as was veteran Diana Montague in the second cast. Finally, Isaac Galán completed the cast as Wagner.

José M. Irurzun

2 thoughts on “Piotr Beczala Proves to Be an Artistic Heir to Alfredo Kraus in Teatro Real’s <i>Faust</i>”

  1. I have just seen this production and, as far as the singers are concerned, I agree with the reviewer – in particular about Piotr Beczala, who was magnificent and in particularly good voice the night I attended. I am inclined to be less charitable than the reviewer about the production itself. I do realise that it would be almost impossible to put on a “traditional” production of “Faust” in this day and age but this production was way, way too “busy”, often at the expense of the soloists. I felt particularly sorry for Stéphane Degout who sang a wonderful “Avant de quitter ces lieux” (Valentin’s one really big aria!!) only to have it lost in all the unnecessary stage business going on around him. The producer has clearly never heard the expression “Less is More”. Luckily for the audience, Mr. Beczala was allowed to sing “Salut, demeure chaste et pure” unhindered. The Act V Walpurgisnacht ballet is frequently omitted and I wonder why it was included, as in this production it added nothing to the understanding of the opera. It was just gratuitously grotesque. As far as I could see, the only advantage of including it was that it afforded Messrs. Beczala and Pisaroni a much-needed opportunity to sit down for a few minutes!


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