CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 12 JANUARY 2006
Robert Schumann: Szenen aus Goethes Faust [Scenes from Goethe's Faust]. (Juliane Banse, sop.; Lee Katherine Taylor, sop.; John Tessier, ten.; Thomas Hampson, bar.; Alan Held, b.; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
The "fountainhead of necromancers," he declared himself, "astrologer, the second Magus, chiromancer, aeromancer, pyromancer, second in hydromancy." And, in the five centuries since, descendants of the historical Faust have traveled far and wide. A few have even found their way to the Midwest. The main character of Randy Newman's musical Faust is a student at Notre Dame. The IMDB cites a made-for-TV movie—I Was a Teenage Faust—set elsewhere in Indiana and starring, among others, Morgan Fairchild. And one of the most entertaining and inventive riffs on the Faust theme—Philip K. Dick's 1969 science-fiction novel Galactic Pot-Healer—is set in a futuristic, hovercraft filled Cleveland.
But you needn't wait until the year 2046—the date of Dick's story—to encounter Faust in Northeast Ohio. This weekend's Cleveland Orchestra performances feature Robert Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust in a taut, dramatic performance led by Music Director Franz Welser-Möst. It's not everyday concert fare. The Orchestra's only tackled it once before: at Blossom in 1978. But the work's combination of attractive music and stage filling spectacle with Goethe's ambitious philosophizing ought to appeal to a wide range of concertgoers.
The Orchestra, its Chorus, and the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus were all equally on form Thursday night, but it was Faust's long roster of soloists that stood out most vividly. Soprano Lee Kathleen Taylor was absolutely mesmerizing as both Worry—the Hag who blinds Faust in Schumann's Second Part—and as the Young Angel in the Third. John Tessier, who wields a marvelously clear tenor voice, was excellently cast as the spirit Ariel. Bass Alan Held had plenty of vocal power for the role of Mephistopheles—though, if you heard Kristinn Sigmundsson's performance of the same part on last Wednesday's broadcast of Cleveland Orchestra Previews, you'll know how much more dark and sinister it can be. Soprano Juliane Banse is an affecting Gretchen, combining dramatic involvement with attentive shaping of vocal lines.
Still, it was the assured, characterful singing of Thomas Hampson that deserves the largest share of the credit for Thursday's excellent performance. His paean to the Blessed Virgin in Part Three was movingly evocative—though one suspects that, due to an unfortunate decision to devote the bulk of the program booklet to some rather protracted notes instead of the text of the work, many listeners didn't know Hampson had by then morphed from Faust into Dr. Marianus. No, the supertitles were not tagged with character names. And, since most soloists were responsible for at least two roles, it was tricky, come Part Three, to distinguish one's Maria Aegyptiaca from one's Mulier Samaritana. Still, it's a long work, and maybe, by that hour, it was best to forget such details and simply let Schumann's music convey its own meanings. As one of Philip K. Dick's stories recommends: "Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night."
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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