Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: Méphisto's masterstroke is slipping that mirror in with the jewels for Marguerite


This is what happens when you have a director too lazy, stupid, dishonest, or just plain contemptuous of the work he's staging. From a 1985 Vienna State Opera production we have Marguerite's "Roi de Thulé," sung quite nicely by the fine Czech soprano Gabriela Beňačková and decently conducted by Erich Binder, but staged as part of some other story -- a quite uninteresting-looking story -- concocted by director Ken Russell.
I would really like to know who this young man was,
if he's a great lord, and what his name is.
“There once was a king of Thulé,
who, faithful unto the grave,
kept in memory of his beloved.
A cup of chiseled gold -- “
[She interrupts her song.]
He bore himself well, it seemed to me.
[She resumes her song.]
“No treasure had so many charms!
On great occasions he used it,
and every time he drank from it
his eyes filled with tears!

"When he felt Death coming,
stretched out on his cold bed,
to carry it up to his mouth
his hand made a supreme effort!”
[Again she interrupts her song.]
I hardly knew what to say, and I blushed at first.
[She resumes her song.]
“And then, in honor of his lady,
he drank one last time;
the cup trembled in his fingers,
and gently he gave up his soul."

by Ken

In last night's preview I tried to introduce the sound world of Gounod's Faust, working from the title character's aria outside Marguerite's "chaste and pure" little house early in the Garden Scene (Act III). The stage is set now for one of the great soprano showcases in the operatic literature, the heroine's double aria, "There was once a king of Thulé" and the spectacular Jewel Song.

The overall form of this double aria is actually quite similar to the game plan for Violetta's bravura Act I-ending scene, which we heard two weeks ago:

* a brief meditative opening recitative pondering the immediate idea in the heroine's head, in this case Marguerite's lingering fascination with the fancy-pants stranger she met at the Kermesse in Act II;

* a basically slow, reflective aria, in this case the innocent young romantic Marguerite recalling the story of the king of Thulé's lifelong devotion to his lost love, interspersed with continued pondering of the mysterious stranger;

* back to recitative, for further contemplation of the situation mixed with new circumstances, in this case Marguerite's discovery of the casket of jewels left for her by Méphisto, which launches her on --

* a brilliant fast second aria, in this case the spectacular Jewel Song.

Here's Renée Fleming singing the Jewel Song in concert:

[MARGUERITE puts on the earrings, stands up, and looks at herself in the mirror.]
Ah! I laugh seeing myself
so pretty in this mirror!
Is it you, Marguerite?
Answer me, answer quickly!
No, no, it's no longer you,
It's no longer your face!
This is the daughter of a king,
To whom everyone bows as she passes.
Ah, if only he were here!
If only he could see me this way!
He would find me as beautiful
As a young lady!
Let's complete the metamorphosis!
I've put off trying on
the bracelet and this necklace!
[She puts on the necklace first, then the bracelet. Rising.]
God! It feels like a hand weighing down on me.

Ah! I laugh seeing myself &c.



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