The 2018/2019 season of the Teatro Real in Madrid opened with Gounod's Faust, after an absence of 15 years. In 2003, Aquiles Machado, Roberto Scandiuzzi and Mariella Devia were the stars. For this comeback, a great production from Amsterdam Opera and a big cast were chosen.
The opening night was a glamourous one attended by famous members of Madrid's jet-set and by the King and the Queen of Spain, who where received with a big applause and the orchestra played Spanish National Anthem in their honor.
The famous Spanish group La Fura dels Baus lead by Alex Ollé set a modern and provocative staging of the opera. The action is set in a modern laboratory in Amsterdam. Faust is an aging scientifist. As there is no curtain, a hall with a big mirror receives the entering spectators. During the overture, the staff is moving around the scene. In the left corner, there is an armchair and two laptops. Méphistophélès appears as an extravagant rock star. Act 2 is set on the laboratory's dinning room, where automat girls amuse modern-dressed soldiers and hockey-team dressed students and big busted waitresses. Marguerite wears a black dress with blue-dyed hair, removing the character from any innocence. Third act had some beauty, singing her arias in a beautiful night star projection but inside a horrible red-lighted building. Act 4 was the best scene: the church is represented by a red lighted cross, and the Devil appears as Jesus Christ, tormenting the praying Marguerite. Chorus scenes are well coreographed, like the Walpurgis Night, represented as a creepy and grotesque bacchanal and female dancers dressed like in a revue. Act 5 shows the prison represented by tube-like cells, where the prisoners are kept. Faust tries to free his mistress, but she is horrified by Méphistophélès presence and rejects him. As the final chorus begins, she transfigured retorned to her cell, which becomes a criogenization red tube. The mirror (which represents the border between fantasy and reality) descends leaving Faust in his fantasy world, while the Devil takes his place in real world, maybe upset by such noble feelings in his Faust.
Despite the spectacularity, in my opinion there has been moments of great visual impact alternating with another tedious ones. The interesting idea of Faust as a scientist bored of life is clashing with the statism of set all the action in a laboratory. And as a result the duet of Marguerite and Faust in Act 3 resulted visually boring.
Dan Ettinger gave a correct conducting, between regularness and high volume. Despite a few refined overture playing, the orchestra finally reached a good sound and level. The Walpurgis night scene was conducted in too fast tempi. The chorus had one of the greatest nights I Heard them recently. Amazing the male chorus in Act 4.
Piotr Beczala is the big name of the cast announced. After his great success in Bayreuth, and after having sung also the Faust of Berlioz La Damnation in 2009, he obtained a great success and outstanding ovation. His voice has a big volume, a heroical sound, powerful high notes and a domain of the character. His version of Salut, Demeure was a great moment due to his good singing despite some trouble in the final high note.
Marina Rebeka was the other star of the night, despite not so much inspiration on the Jewel aria, with her high notes too weak and being surpassed by the orchestra. But in Act 4 she gave a very good performance, with a dramatical voice and improving remarkably until the end.
Luca Pisaroni was a splendid Méphistophélès, with a dark voice and good acting, despite being also surpassed by the orchestra in Le veau d'Or.
The mezzos Serena Malfi as Siebel and Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo as Marthe sang accomplishedly their parts, specially Malfi with a beautiful contralto-like voice.
Stéphane Degout sang a correct Valentin, despite becoming sometimes gutural and Isaac Galán was again a nice surprise as Wagner, with his great voice.
The performance was musically a success, Beczala and Rebeka getting ovations, so did Pisaroni but someone gave him a boo, as well as Ettinger. La Fura received at the beggining both applause and boos, but when two members of their staff (set designer Alfons Flores and costume designer Lluc Castells) went to the scene wearing the Catalan independentist ribbons, it raised a big outrage in the audience; who went into a strong dissaproval.
The 18/19 season started with a big scandal, but the production is expected to improve as performances will go by.
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