Monday, November 28, 2011

Phone Chat with Maestro Joseph Rescigno

Click here to listen as Arizona Opera General Director Scott Altman discusses Arizona Opera's upcoming production of "Madama Butterfly" with veteran conductor Joseph Rescigno.

A master of the Italian repertoire, Rescigno has already conducted 79 different performances of "Butterfly."  For the six-performance run with Arizona Opera, he will lead an all-star cast that includes sopranos Shu-Ying Li and Jill Gardner, tenor Adam Diegel, baritone Jake Gardner and mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak.

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 Facts You May Not Know About Gounod's "Faust"

1. The work became an instant hit in musical capitals after its 1859 Paris premiere.  Charles Dickens said about this opera: “It has affected me and sounded in my ears like a mournful echo of things that lie in my own heart.” 

The Kermesse scene updated in AZ Opera's production to a bar/nightclub
2. Although the story of “Faust” is based on Goethe’s 12,000-verse play (written between 1772 and 1832), the opera only covers Part I of the German poet’s version, not the more philosophical musings of Part II.  It’s unlikely that a French translation of Part II was available to Gounod and his librettists at the time of the opera’s creation.

3. The original source of "Faust" was a real person, a Doctor Johann Georg Faustus who lived in southern Germany around 1600.  The legend of his pact with the devil became popular through ballads, puppet shows and morality plays (e.g., Christopher Marlowe’s “Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”).

4.  The 1859 version of Gounod's “Faust" that premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris was much longer than the opera we know today due to the spoken dialogue used between the musical arias and ensembles. The dialogue was set to music by the composer for performances in other cities the following year.
Marguerite (soprano Emily Pulley) and Valentin (baritone Mark Walters)
5. Valentin’s aria “Avant de quitter” — one of the best-known tunes of “Faust” — was added in 1864, a couple of years after the London premiere.  It was sung in English at those performances ("Even the bravest heart may swell") and the French version followed later.

6.  A scene which you will almost never see in performances today of “Faust” is the Act V “Walpurgisnacht” in which Méphistophélès takes Faust to a witches’ Sabbath.  Faust is surrounded by some of the most beautiful women of history, sees a ballet and sings a drinking song. The scene is usually cut for its huge production demands and to advance the plot.

Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley as Mephistopheles
7. In 1883, “Faust” opened New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.  The Met became known as the “House that ‘Faust’ Built” because it was the Opening Night opera almost every year for the rest of the century. ("Faust" now ranks #18 in Opera America’s list of most-performed operas in the U.S.)

8.  When Gounod’s opera is performed in German-speaking countries, it’s generally titled “Margarete,” a symbolic distancing from Goethe’s much-beloved play.

9.  Music and religion were Gounod’s passions.  In his youth, he came under the influence of the Society of St. Sulpice in Paris, a religious order. (Gounod’s priesthood, however, was short-lived; he was nicknamed the “philandering monk.”)  To this day, one of Gounod’s most cherished melodies is his “Ave Maria.” 

10.  Richard Wagner dismissed Gounod’s opera as “superficial sentimentality.”  That hasn’t stopped later composers creating their own operatic versions of the Faust myth.  That distinguished company includes Boito, Busoni, Mahler, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and American composer John Adams with his “Doctor Atomic” (2005).