Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Classics: On the Devil's cue, Faust and Marguerite come together, and damn the consequences


The baritone in Gounod's Faust, Marguerite's brother Valentin, has some fabulous music but had no aria until the composer added one for an early London production for the baritone Charles Santley. "Even bravest heart may swell" was inserted as Valentin prepares to go off to war with the soldiers in Act II; it was translated into French as "Avant de quitter ces lieux," but is sung here in Russian by the great Soviet baritone Pavel Lisitsian, whom we've heard singing Tchaikovsky: the song "None but the Lonely Heart" and Prince Yeletsky's aria from Queen of Spades.

by Ken

I've switched the order of today's posts to slip in this final reminder about the final concert in the St. Petersburg Quartet's Shostakovich Beethoven series. On the program, at 3pm at Bargemusic, at the Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn, are the Shostakovich 11th, 12th, and 15th Quartets and Beethoven's Grosse Fuge.

It's been a remarkable series, with last night's program on a par with Friday night's extraordinary one. In Shostakovich, I'm realizing that, as much as I love the St. Petersburg's 1999-2003 recording of the 15 quartets for Hyperion, the performances have evolved significantly, especially in the later quartets, which makes today's program that much more attractive. Seemingly paradoxically, the deeper the quartet delves into the music, the clearer and more readily digestible the music becomes.

At some point we have to hope that somebody undertakes a new St. Petersburg recording of the Shostakovich quartets. How about a video version? I've found it fascinating watching these players play the music. We're going to have to talk about this more, but for now the message is: If you have the opportunity, go! You really don't want to miss this.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. In Friday night's and last night's Faust previews we've set the stage for the first moment when Faust and Marguerite are finally alone together. Friday night we heard Faust's great aria, "Salut, demeure chaste et pure," and last night we heard Marguerite first having her recollection of the lovelorn old king of Thulé interrupted by thoughts of the dashing stranger she met briefly earlier, and then we heard her discover the casket of jewels left for her by Méphistophélès on Faust's behalf, with a mirror cunningly included at the bottom, enabling the poor girl to see herself astoundingly bedecked in the mysteriously appeared jewels.

I'm sorry to say we're going to skip over the Garden Scene quartet, with the introduction into the scene of Faust and Méphisto as well as Marguerite's nosy neighbor Dame Marthe Schwertlein, as the Devil greets her in preparation for announcing to her the cheerful news, "Your husband is dead, Madame, and greets you." While Méphisto occupies Marthe, Faust and Marguerite have a moment to themselves, but as I say, we're skipping over the whole of the quartet.

Finally the soon-to-be lovers are left alone, with eventually catastrophic consequences for poor Marguerite, but not for Faust, who has one sweet time, and especially not for the Devil, for whom everything is working out according to plan. He pronounces a tingling invocation. We're going to hear it again in the click-through, but let's start at the top with the great Ezio Pinza.

Faust: Act III, Invocation, Méphistophélès, "Il était temps" . . . "O nuit, étends sur eux ton ombre"
Not a moment too soon! Beneath the dark boughs
Our lovers are wending their way back. 'Tis fine!
I must take care not to disturb such tender effusions.

O night, extend your shadow over them!
Love, make their ears deaf to untimely remorse!
And you, subtly scented flowers,
Bloom under this accursed hand of mine
And put the last touch to Marguerite's undoing!
[He vanishes as FAUST and MARGUERITE return.]
Ezio Pinza (bs), Méphistophélès; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Wilfred Pelletier, cond. Live performance, March 16, 1940



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