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25.1.06

Pascal Dusapin's New Faust

Reviews in German:

Julia Spinola, Wo wir sind, ist die Hölle (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 23)

Christian Tewinkel, Des Trudels Kern (Der Tagesspiegel, January 23)

Peter Hagmann, Fragen über Fragen, und keine Antwort weit und breit (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, January 23)

Klaus Geitel, Ritt auf den Uhrzeigern (Berliner Morgenpost, January 23)

Wolfgang Fuhrmann, Durch Licht zur Nacht (Berliner Zeitung, January 23)

Niklaus Hablützel, Die Kälte der Ewigkeit (Die Tageszeitung, January 23)

Stefan Amzoll, Prolog in einer Höllennacht: Pascal Dusapins »Faustus, the Last Night« in der Berliner Staatsoper uraufgeführt (Neues Deutschland, January 24)

Manuel Brug, Warten auf Gott, der nicht kommt (Die Welt, January 24)
One of the operas I was most interested in when I put together this season's Ionarts Opera Preview was a new opera by French composer Pascal Dusapin, Faustus, the Last Night. I had learned about it from the promotional information from the Opéra national de Lyon, where it will be produced in March, followed by the Théâtre du Châtelet in November. As it turns out, that is actually not the world premiere, as I had originally listed it. The opera had its world premiere on January 21, at the Berlin Staatsoper unter den Linden. If you can wrap your mind around the linguistic layers, that's an English libretto set by a French composer and premiered in Germany. The libretto's source is Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus (1604/1616), itself based on a source work translated from German. I read reviews in all three of France's major dailies, starting with Christian Merlin's (Pascal Dusapin, conversation avec Faust, January 24) for Le Figaro (my translation):
It is in an opera house loaded with history that Pascal Dusapin's sixth opera has just seen the day: the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, where Weber's Der Freischütz and Alban Berg's Wozzeck were premiered no less! The aura of the place did not inhibit the French composer's creativity or his audacity. And that's what is needed to create yet another variation on the Faust theme, one of the most commonly set stories in music history and to do so in the homeland of Goethe. The latter, however, is completely absent from the English libretto of Faustus, the Last Night, which is based on Marlowe's text, two centuries before Goethe. To that source is added, as is often the case with Dusapin, a voracious reader and unrepentent bibliophile, a forest of literary references, not all of them identifiable, including Shakespeare, from which we get the character of Sly, the humiliated alcoholic from The Taming of the Shrew. If his previous opera, Perelà was also about the philosophic argument behind a plot line, Faustus is a theater of ideas, a conversation piece, like an existential huis clos (one of the characters is named Togod, not only meaning "to God" but also an anagramme of Godot...).

Stasis is inherent to the story, Faust's final night, when the mythical hero, somewhere between memory and forgetfulness, dream and reality, looks in vain for answers from a Mephisto who mocks him and a blind angel. Light, time, his own identity can only escape him since at the end of it all there is only the void. To set this very dark vision, Dusapin created somber music, exploiting the dark low bass sounds of the orchestra, contrabasses, tuba, bass clarinet, in a great lament. The dominant theme is more than once the obstinate pedal note, with long held notes or chords: this unfolds a monochromatic lack of movement in which we might see a certain harmonic poverty, and yet one remains for long stretches struck by what one has just heard, returning to the land of the living only with some difficulty. The Berlin audience had the same impression, judging from the eight solid minutes of fervent and constant ovations.
The work is only an hour and a half in length. The director of Perelà at the Bastille, Peter Mussbach, is responsible for this staging, which places the characters on a gigantic turning clock face. For some reason, Mussbach also includes rabbits and an egg beater. A second review came from Eric Dahan («Faustus», sans fausse note, January 23) for Libération (my translation):
As with his last opera, Perelà, Dusapin wrote his own libretto, inspired by Marlowe's text but also citing Dante, Augustine, the Bible, Blake, Shakespeare, Flaubert, Hölderlin, Nerval, Caligula, Al Capone, Melville, and Beckett. [...] As in Perelà, Dusapin superimposes different tempi, with pedal tones, deflagrations, and a Zen-like search for the Straussian continuous line, which works. As for the vocal writing, Faustus rather recalls To Be Sung, his second opera based on Gertrude Stein. If Perelà sometimes seemed to dependent on arioso, Faustus rediscovers parlando, but a virtuosic parlando characterized by extremes: from the title role sliding from the low up to the falsetto, to the Angel negotiating intervals separated by two octaves, without ever exaggerating the high part in a dramatic soprano way, Dusapin knows how to translate machiavellianism with natural sobriety, like the panic that he creates.
Third, I read the review by Marie-Aude Roux (Pascal Dusapin toilette "Faust", January 24) for Le Monde, which says that the operas final lines are: "There is nothing! That's right... That's the way it is." All reviews agree that the quality of musical performance is quite high. I hope it comes out on DVD.

UPDATE:
No reviews of the premiere in English-language newspapers yet, as noted by Alex Ross in a rare appearance at The Rest Is Noise, who includes a link to a German review in Die Welt. I've added links above to all the German newspaper reviews I could find.

6 comments:

Nick said...

Oh, wow. This sounds right up my esoterism-obsessed alley. I love a good secret encoding of the alchemical into art. I'm downloading a couple of Dusapin's works right now!

Garth Trinkl said...

Alex Ross, at The Rest is Noise, cites the Manuel Brug German-language review in Die Welt, as well as this intriguing snippet: "Big names such as Carter, Birtwistle, Takemitsu, and Zender notwithstanding, the Staatsoper has here presented its most convincing premiere of the last several years." I too look forward to seeing and hearing the work, and judging how it stacks up against Birtwistle's "The Last Supper." (I'd also be interested in a Philip Glass fan comparing this new Faust to the Glass-Hampton "Waiting for the Barbarians" [based on J.M. Coetzee] premiered in Erfurt, Germany last summer.)

http://www.welt.de/data/2006/01/23/835081.html

http://www.therestisnoise.com

Charles T. Downey said...

Garth, thanks for the note about Alex Ross's post. For anyone who is interested in the new Glass opera, I did a press roundup of Waiting for the Barbarians in September.

Charles T. Downey said...

Nick, I'm hoping that some courageous company in the U.S. will produce this opera soon.

Anonymous said...

It will be staged at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston in May, 2007 - finally, a Dusapin opera done in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

"The work is only an hour and a half in length."

Funny. It feels like 3 hours, at least.