Charles Gounod’s Faust takes the spotlight at Opera Nice this month
With a libretto in French by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, this five-act opera was adapted from Carré’s Faust et Marguerite, a play loosely based on Part I of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epic poem, Faust, which was in turn based on the German legend of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and power.
The opera premiered at the Lyric Theatre in Paris on the 19th of March, 1859, and when the work was first staged by the Paris Opera in 1869, Gounod added a ballet to Act V.
Gounod and his librettists didn’t replicate the actual theme of Goethe’s work, though, but chose to focus on Carré’s portrayal of the tragic romance between Faust and a lady whom Carré called Marguerite (Gretchen in Goethe’s play). The opera was Gounod’s first success, and the work which launched him on the international stage. The opera was not, however, viewed with admiration in Germany, where people were angry at the changes which had been made to a work which they regarded as a national treasure.
The opera tells the story of the aged philosopher Faust who – disenchanted with life – makes a pact with Mephistopheles, whereby he trades his soul for youth, and the love of the beautiful Marguerite. She casts aside her suitor, Siébel, in favour of Faust, and although Faust initially appears to be in love with her, it’s not long before he abandons her. Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, returns from the war and is furious to discover that his sister is pregnant. He is fatally wounded in a fight with Faust, Marguerite is imprisoned for infanticide, and when she’s visited in prison by Faust – in his attempt to save her – she sees Mephistopheles there too, and dies.
— Stefano Secco (@StefanoSecco3) May 11, 2019
The role of Faust is sung by Italian tenor, Stefano Secco, who – at the age of 16 – was a drummer, “playing blues, rock and a little bit of jazz”, before he studied singing, he says. Having mastered the art of ‘squillo’ – the resonant, trumpet-like sound which enables an essentially lyric opera singer to be heard over the sound of an orchestra – he has appeared in some of the finest opera houses across Europe, as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle. Following Secco’s performance as Riccardo in Verdi’s Un Ballo in maschera at the Arena di Verona, Seen and Heard International wrote that he has “… both beauty of voice and phrase”, and The Seattle Times described his voice as “… richly easy on the ear ….”.
Mephistopheles is sung by French bass, Nicholas Courjal, whose appearances earlier this year include Faust at Opera Marseilles, in Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable at La Monnaie in Brussels and Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust in Strasbourg. Other productions in which he has appeared include Rossini’s William Tell and Bizet’s Carmen at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet at Deutsche Oper, Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at Opera Monte-Carlo, Verdi’s Don Carlo at Opera Marseilles and Aïda at Choregies d’Orange.
French soprano Chloé Chaume sings Marguerite, a role she has also sung at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège. Ms Chaume has performed in Oratorios such as Faure’s Requiem, Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio, Brahms’ German Requiem and the soprano solo in Mozart’s Requiem. Roles in which she has appeared include Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen, the title role in Massenet’s Manon, Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, Donna Anna in his Don Giovanni, and also in Puccini’s La Bohème (Musetta), Gianni Schicchi (Lauretta/Nella), Suor Angelica (Sœur Geneviève), Turandot (Liù) and in Rossini’s Cenerentola (Clorinda). Upcoming engagements include the role of Musetta in La Bohème, and Mozart’s Requiem – both in Paris.
The role of Valentin is taken by Argentinian baritone, Armando Noguera, whose performance in the title role of Rossini’s William Tell in Melbourne – for which he won the 2018 Opera Chaser Award for Outstanding Male in a Lead Role – was described by The Sydney Morning Herald as “….outstanding. He’s commanding in voice and physique, and elegantly handles Rossini’s style”. Time Out wrote: “Best of all, though, is Noguera as the man himself; he has such a powerful presence, not to mention a stunning and rich baritone, that the whole production seems to lean into him.” Mr Noguera has most recently appeared as Ping in Puccini’s Turandot for Opera Marseille.
Giuliano Carella leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of Opera Nice in this production of Gounod’s Faust – a co-production between Opera Nice, Opera Grand Avignon, Opera Massy, the Opéra-Théâtre de Metz-Métropole, Opera Reims and Opera Marseille. Staged by Nadine Duffaut, the production has decor by Emmanuelle Favre, costumes by Gerard Audier and lighting by Philippe Grosperrin.
Faust runs at Opera Nice from 22nd to 28th May. Tickets may be reserved online.
Lead image courtesy Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur