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Faustian, but no bargain

“The spring season at the Met is as changeable as March weather in New York: crisp and brilliant for a day or two, and then suddenly as dismal as Thursday night’s Faust.” [New York Post]


  • 1
    Bianca Castafiore says:

    Well, if only they had asked little petite *moi* to show this woman how the Jewel Song is done…

    • 1.1
      • 1.1.1
        ianw2 says:

        I dunno, that Tintin was no match for Jean-Pierre Talbot, who was responsible for what was probably my earliest sexual awakening.

        So now you know.

      • 1.1.2
        Feldmarschallin says:

        She has a slight resemblance to Gabriele Schnaut. And it is apparent by her trills she does not come from the Marchesi School. Dame Nellie she is not.

    • 1.2
      Camille says:

      Gurl! OMG!!! U should B singin’ Gutrune w/ that voice & physique, not little dainty virginal Marguerite.

      Also, need to work on The TRILL—Big Time!

      Still in all, I luv U


    • 1.3
      Nerva Nelli says:

      “Shattered soprano” Poplavskaya seems to me to be in the direct line of the Castafiore legacy.

  • 2
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Great review of lousey production.
    Vanessa Redgrave loved Wagner

  • 3
    shoegirl says:

    Curious. An acquaintance, themselves a professional singer, was at it, and got rather excited about it. Each to his/her own I guess.

  • 4
    Cocky Kurwenal says:

    Is JJ able to flesh out his description of Poplavskaya any further? I’m interested to hear if he thinks it was a bad night for this inconsistent singer, indicative of a decline, or if ‘shattered’ means so bad that the end is surely nigh?

    • 4.1
      Lady Abbado says:

      “He sounded like a superstar, though, next to Marina Poplavskaya’s shattered soprano as Marguerite. She’s an intense, magnetic actress, true. But so is Vanessa Redgrave, and you don’t see her trying to sing at the Met”.

      My reading of this paragraph is that JJ means: she should have never been allowed to sing at the MET period -- she’s out of her league.

      • 4.1.1
        Cocky Kurwenal says:

        I wouldn’t have thought so -- JJ has rated her in other things before.

          Porgy Amor says:

          Some of the other reviews of this revival suggest she’s ill, knows she doesn’t sound good, and just is soldiering on rather than canceling. Per one report, she faced her colleagues at the final curtain, looked apologetic, and pointed at her throat. Is the Met making any announcement beforehand to plead for the audience’s indulgence? (I know, some think that should be done before any Poplavskaya performance, sick or healthy.)

          So I’m thinking it’s a bad night (or bad week) for a singer who always has been inconsistent, rather than a steep decline or an end-is-nigh.

          I disliked this production more than any of the other Gelb-era misfires, and I don’t know if there is a cast on the earth that could get me to see it again. Even the premiere trio couldn’t do much with it. To give La Poplavskaya her due, the most vivid memory I have of it was her acting, especially her joy during the staircase climb at the end. You’d *think* I’d have a vivid memory of the singing by Kaufmann and Pape, but even they seemed neutralized. What a difference a year later in PARSIFAL.

    • 4.2
      la vociaccia says:

      On the broadcast, she didn’t sound “finished,” but Marguerite displays her issues more than anything else. Everything on top was horribly pinched, coloratura out of tune, just a really bad showing. I hate say it, but how young can a Kostelnicka be? I feel like she would go to town on those character roles where vocal estate is somewhat relative (Herodias as well)

    • 4.3
      luvtennis says:

      Agreed. I was shocked to read that assessment as I thought that La Cieca was fond of la Popsy.

      I have only ever heard her as Desdemona on DVD. I felt that she had a working octave and oodles of charisma which can work in Desdemona. But Marguerite is a singing test for lyric soprano. Attitude and charisma will not do it if the singer lacks the ability to sing legato across wide intervals and a freely produced upper register.

      I will confess that among my worst nightmares is an eternity of Jo Barstow (late 80s vintage) singing marguerite with Andrea bocelli as Faust….

  • 5
    Buster says:

    I am hearing her in the Decker Traviata next month. Joyce el Khoury is singing two performances, Poplavskaya the other eight.

  • 6
    oedipe says:

    Are we in the process of putting the entire blame on Gelb yet again? All he is doing with Poplavskaya and Relyea is sharing a rolodex with other crème-de-la-crème houses: Poplavskaya is ZE favored soprano, and Relyea one of ZE favored bass-barytons for leading French roles not only at the Met, but also at the ROH and in Munich. So what are people complaining about? This is solid, reassuringly generic-sounding casting, and next season you will see more of it on all these top stages. Only a minor house like De Nederlandse Opera would ever consider hiring Minkovski to conduct, and singers like Yoncheva, Fabiano, Sempey, Crebassa to sing in Faust. To be fair, of those, Fabiano will probably make it to the Met.

    • 6.1
      Feldmarschallin says:

      Relyea was not very good in the Hoffmann yet is coming back again. To be fair Yoncheva will also be making her debut this coming season.

    • 6.2
      la vociaccia says:

      Alright, officially confused. Does altinoglu not count as a French music conductor? And since when does Fabiano fall into “too French for American taste” land? And not ‘probably,’ *has* made it to the Met; he’s on the roster for next year’s fledermaus,

      • 6.2.1
        RosinaLeckermaul says:

        But Fabiano isn’t getting the star roles at the Met that he is singing well elsewhere. Cassio is hardly a star role. And Alfred in FLEDERMAUS? Does he have the appropriate hamminess to pull that off?

          la vociaccia says:

          I don’t th

          la vociaccia says:

          I don’t think it’s short sighted of the met to wait. He’s still awfully young, and I’m positive he’ll have more assignments popping up as he gets older

          • Nerva Nelli says:

            Michael Fabiano has gotten much better since THE AUDITION, Feldster, learning to cover for one thing so he doesn’t do a GdS flameout in a year or two. He will be in OONY’s LOMBARDI in April with Meade and Kevin Short so many Parterreans can hear him then. I continue to hope for great things, though “better than Kaufmann” seems highly premature given how fine Kaufmann has been in TOSCA and ADRIANA and (despite understandable non-chemistry with the Gelb-Favored-Shattered Soprano) FAUST.

            Alfred seems a waste of his talents. They could stunt-cast Alfred with Berti, Botha, Bocelli and Giordani, each of whom would be hilarious in his own way. Better yet: Villazon, who would genuinely be manically funny and can sing whatever parts of whatever arias flatter his vocal estate *du jour*.

          • Feldmarschallin says:

            Thanks for the update on Fabiano Nerva.

      • 6.2.2
        oedipe says:

        la vociaccia,

        Whereas Altinoglu -like many others- comes in and does his day’s work as a conductor, Minkowski is a visionary who has a “mission”. He puts together high quality, coherent casts, often with young singers he has nurtured for years and whose careers he has launched, and works with these casts as an ensemble. He is also a brilliant musician and the interpretations he gives to the works he selects always sound fresh and authentic.

        As for Fabiano, I think that he can be a very good Faust and that he will fit in well with the rest of the Amsterdam cast. With respect to being “too French for American tastes”, you seem to have answered your own question: of the names that I mentioned above, Fabiano is the only one who is not French trained, and he is the only one who is “making it” at the Met.

        But let me return the question to you: if you think, as you seem to, that I exaggerate about singers being “too French for Americans”, how do you explain the fact that next season there is only ONE French singer in a lead role on the Met roster? And, as far as I know, there are no plans to cast this one singer in any new French language production for the remainder of his contract. Is it because ALL French singers are so awful that absolutely no one from France could equal Poplavskaya, or Relyea, or Michael, or whoever is singing the French rep these days? Are the performances of French operas at the Met so excellent that there is no need to cast other, more idiomatic singers? What’s your take on these things?

          Hippolyte says:

          I notice that you neglected (almost certainly purposely) to mention that Minkowski’s Mephistopheles is Mikhail Petrenko.

          • oedipe says:

            I don’t know Petrenko well enough to have an opinion. But there is sort of a long tradition of Slavic Mephistos that I don’t particularly care for.

          oedipe says:

          Oh, and BTW, Fabiano will probably be a better Faust than Kaufmann was. Which may not be all that difficult after all. I think Kaufmann has no business singing ANY Gounod, and much of French grand opera. Now shoot me!

          • la vociaccia says:

            I’m already well aware (as is everyone here) that you dislike Kaufmann, so I’m taking your flung-opinion with a grain of salt. As for Fabiano, you can keep him. Haven’t ever warmed up to his singing. Everyone else here seems to love him, so I’m not going to try and ruin their fun. But I’d rather listen to Kaufmann in anything over him.

          • Feldmarschallin says:

            Fabiano better than Kaufmann? That almost made me spill my coffee over the keyboard. This site is always up for a surprise. Fabiano sure has a big ego though if you saw The Audition. He doesn’t come across as being a very nice person.

          • oedipe says:

            Correction: I very much like Kaufmann in the German rep and in several verismo operas. Unlike many others here, I don’t think Kaufmann can sing everything better than everybody else. Nor do I prefer a German intonation to a French intonation in French opera, unlike many people here, you included it seems.
            And BTW, I am still waiting for your views as to why there are so few Frenchies singing at the Met.

          • Feldmarschallin says:

            Well I don’t know why you are waiting for MY views on why the Met isn’t hiring more French singers but what else can you expect from a house that keeps hiring Voigt for roles like Brünnhilde and Marie (!) and the likes of Giordano. Martina Serafin as the Marschallin and Poplavskaya and Frittoli aren’t exactly top notch casting either are they? From what I heard on The Audition I wouldn’t pay anything to hear Fabiano in anything. But I didn’t realize he was the paragon of French singing or the second coming of Georges Thill. Give me Kaufmann on his worst night in anything over Fabiano. And I have no worries about Poplavskaya here. She got her due after the Traviatas and will get them again if she deserves them after the Tell Premiere. People are very upset about that casting here and are not afraid to show it. The Traviata I was able to avoid but I will attend the Tell Premiere.

          • The Vicar of John Wakefield says:

            Neither the Hun nor the Yank tenor merits serious discussion alongside Andrew Tortoise or Andrew Kennedy. And why hire a Russian Valentin when Lincoln Center veteran Leigh Melrose is available--or William Dazeley?

          • la vociaccia says:

            I have no f*cking idea why there aren’t more “frenchies” at the Met, but my guess is that it’s the same reason there hasn’t been Podlès, Devia, Gruberova, Kunde, Bruce Ford (I know, he retired), Cedolins, Orgonasova, and a few other brilliant singers (including a completely singular singer-actor who only gets positive reviews and yet doesn’t seem to have any Met contracts lined up)

            It’s a perfect storm of conflicting contracts, crowded (or limited) repertoire, lack of vocal size (or in the case of why Popsy sings so damn much, lack of the *it* factor), and probably some bad blood between agents thrown in for good measure. If watching “The Audition” taught me anything, it’s that those people in the Met casting department know as much about the art of singing as the average parterre reader (I know for a fact “passaggio” is the only word in Friend’s vocabulary), and to be honest I have know fucking idea why Alek Shrader is going anywhere near Tamino next year, but they seem to think he has *it* and I don’t have to pay to see him if I don’t want.

            I would *kill* to hear Yoncheva in anything, and I hope with all my being that she’ll get to the Met soon, in French repertoire. But if it is indeed some sort of innate prejudice keeping her (and other idiomatic singers) out, I won’t hold my breath, and I’ll just save my nickels and go to Europe to hear her.

          • armerjacquino says:

            ‘No Devia’ is stretching it, as she had 70-odd performances over 15 years. And heaven preserve the Met from the wreck of Cedolins’ voice.

            But your general point is spot on- some singers don’t sing at some houses, for whatever reason (and they needn’t be sinister ones). To take a few random examples of singers of different types from different eras: Janowitz, for example, only sang one run at the Met; Gueden and Popp each sang about a third as many performances as Devia; Triegle, Brouwenstijn and Margiono never sang there at all. Cracks appear at every opera house and singers fall through them.

          • la vociaccia says:

            And you’re wrong, I don’t prefer a German intonation over a French intonation, but I do prefer a better *singer,* regardless of their diction. It’s a question of how high we value certain things in performers. I’ve noticed that you place a higher premium than myself on the way people look on stage (re: Dalayman Vs. that Awful-yet-sexy Kundry from Lyon), for me, I’ll take someone twice the size of Johan Botha if they have an important enough instrument.

            If you noticed, a few months ago I defended Alagna against someone who accused him of being a “beefier Bocelli,” and I used as an example the way his French intonation completes “Ah, Lève-toi, soleil!” in a way no faux-french singer can do. I value idiomatic singing very highly; but I don’t live and die by it. There’s nothing wrong if you do, again, different people value qualities higher than others

          • oedipe says:

            La Vociaccia,

            Does the word “idiomatic” mean anything to you?

            And everybody, since I cannot answer every question, here is a hot off the press example of “too French for American tastes”. The TCE has just announced a new Carmelites for next season. Compare the cast with the Met’s upcoming one for the same opera.
            TCE: Gens as Mme Lidoine; Met: Racette for the same role.
            TCE: Koch as Mere Marie; Met: Bishop for the role.
            TCE: Piau as Soeur Constance; Erin Morley at the Met.
            TCE: Petibon as Blanche; Leonard at the Met (transposed).
            TCE: Plowright as Mme Croissy; Palmer at the Met.
            Now, we all know that the Met has deeper pockets than the TCE and that the Met hires the BEST available casts in the world, doesn’t it? Any thoughts?

          • armerjacquino says:

            oedipe, that Met CARMELITES cast strikes me as odd for another reason: why come up with an entirely anglophone cast and then ignore Poulenc’s wish that the opera should be sung in the vernacular?

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            I wouldn’t like to hear Piau or Petibon in any opera house in the world. Idiomatic text is important in opera, but so is a consistent emission and a certain amount of refulgence.

          • peter says:

            It doesn’t look like a whole lot of thought went into the upcoming Met revival of Dialogues. For starters, there’s only 3 performances of it. It’s almost like they had a few days to fill up in their schedule and decided to throw it together. It’s an unimaginative cast of Met regulars. The production is from 1977 (I was at the premiere). It’s been exactly 10 years since it was last done so maybe they decided to revive it because it was time. Heck, the just revived Troyens because it had been 10 years and it was time, whether there was an adequate cast or not.

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            Do we know what language the ROH is using for Carmelites next season? As far as I can tell the press announcement doesn’t say.

          • Buster says:

            Incredible that no one thought of Maria Ewing as Madame de Croissy.

          • Nerva Nelli says:

            Oedipe -- Felicity Palmer has excellent French; Plowright does not, not does she sing as well as Palmer.

            Maury — I have seen Uria-Monzon in several roles over the last few years and she is vocally better and also verbally more acute than in her et Carmens.

          • oedipe says:

            I agree with you, Nerva: Palmer is preferable to Plowright as Croissy. I also prefer Appleby to Lehtipuu.
            Though probably the ideal Croissy would be Nadine Denize. Sylvie Brunet too would be a fine Croissy.

          • Famous Quickly says:

            I could sing the Marquis de la Force *tomorrow*; it’s a question of color and tessitura.

          Cocky Kurwenal says:

          Oedipe, I’m really curious: who are the French singers who aren’t singing at the Met but should be?

          • Nerva Nelli says:


            Ludovic Tezier and Beatrice Uria-Monzon, who have both gotten even better since their few Met appearances, would be two of my candidates.

            Sylvie Brunet may not have a voice for the ages but is an effective, large-voiced and idiomatic Cassandre, certainly *streets* ahead of what we endured in December/January.

          • Maury D says:

            Uria-Monzon was pretty lackluster in her late 90s Carmens, I have to say. This is not to say she should never come back but it was not good or promising singing.

  • 7
    steveac10 says:

    So at what point does the Billinghurst team panic and start looking for replacements for next season? Because both Popsy and Frittoli have been flatly inadequate in this season’s outings and in neither case is it a surprise as they’ve been on this downward path for a couple of seasons now. People paying hundreds of dollars to see an opera deserve better than this. And by next winter it will be even less of a surprise. Meanwhile, the company has yet to capitalize on any of the successful debuts over the last few seasons (Gilmore, Moore, Opolais etc). Even worse are the homegrown talents like Laila Claire and Tamara Mumford who show they are Met worthy and then just disappear to parts unknown after a couple of successful seasons.

    • 7.1
      la vociaccia says:

      Yet to capitalize? Opolais is scheduled for a butterfly just next year at the met! And leaving the lindemann program to sing at major houses abroad and around the country cannot really be considered vanishing to parts unknown.

    • 7.2
      armerjacquino says:

      I wouldn’t tell a Canadian about the ‘homegrown’ Layla Claire!

    • 7.3
      Nerva Nelli says:

      “Meanwhile, the company has yet to capitalize on any of the successful debuts over the last few seasons (Gilmore…”

      A paragon to set beside Janowitz and Jurinac:

      • 7.3.1
        Feldmarschallin says:

        Nerva I saw her as Kundry and she was horrible. But this was years ago. Now perhaps Steve meant Rachele Gilmore who is a coloratura and is going to sing Olympia here next season. Where did Gail Gilmore find that awful, awful dress?

          Nerva Nelli says:

          “Now perhaps Steve meant Rachele Gilmore who is a coloratura”

          Heavens, do you really think so???? :)

          Bianca Castafiore says:

          La Gilmore obviously got that dress from La Nervosa’s wardrobe. It’s very appropriate for ululating at funerals at the finest villages in the Balkans…

  • 8
    stignanispawn says:

    I agree with La Cieca’s assessment of Faust — saw the dress last Monday. There’s not a lot to praise in the physical production.
    I have never heard a Relyea performance that made me say “wow” — nor have many others apparently, but he performs major roles every year. Markov is a fine singer and, for my nickel, underused at the Met. His cover, Hyung Yun, whom I heard in a Verdi Requiem performance at Rose Hall over the weekend, is a wonderful singer with stage presence. He sang at the Met a while back in Faust, Turandot and, if memory serves, Manon. He is now a cover. I wish I could understand what goes into making casting decisions at the Met — it is sometimes not vocal prowess.

    • 8.1
      Hippolyte says:

      I’m curious what a baritone who sings Valentin, Ping, Silvio, etc. was doing in the Verdi Requiem?

      • 8.1.1
        kennedet says:

        Agreed. Voice classification is such a convoluted subject these days. I don’t think there will ever be a consensus of what voice classification means. We have some people who beleive that it doesn’t matter and if you can sing it…. that’s what you are. In other words….f*ck the fach!!

  • 9
    decotodd says:

    Popsy’s vocal condition can’t be that much of a surprise — recall listening to the FAUST prima on Sirius last year and she was literally voiceless by the trio ending the opera. (And every opera-goer knows how that piece is supposed to sound).

    Curiously though, she was quite good in the LA Opera’s I DUE FOSCARI last fall, and I don’t remember her being so threadbare in the DON CARLOS HD a season or so ago.

  • 10
    A. Poggia Turra says:

    By coincidence, I read the NYP review and the comments here while listening to the recent Harteros VLL on Arte LiveWeb -- talk about tne subline vs. the ridiculous!

    And this gives me a chance to remind all that the Paris concert is available online for just eight more days:

    • 10.1
      Feldmarschallin says:

      I used to have a similar dress like the one she is wearing but hers is nicer with the low cut back. I will see if I can steal those earrings from her. :)

  • 11
    stignanispawn says:

    Hippolyte — Good question about Hyung Yun singing in the Verdi Requiem since my understanding (and a check of wikipedia) indicates that it was originally scored for a bass. I didn’t think about that going into the performance.
    All I can say is that Hyung Yun did a great job, which is par for the course with him. I guess if Domingo can move from tenor to baritone in Verdi, Hyung Yun can move from baritone to bass too. BYW — he will be singing additional performances of the Verdi Requiem elsewhere, as well as some performances in the title role of Rigoletto in Seattle and Colorado as mentioned earlier. Hyung Yun is a engaging singer with stage presence and someone to watch — hint hint, Mr. Gelb.

    • 11.1
      kennedet says:

      I’ve obsessed over this enough but I hope that we can at least agree that Domingo probably cannot sing tenor roles anymore or at least most of them. Yes, I’m aware how old he is!!Therefore the comparison is inacccurate regarding Yun. The circumstances should be the same.

      Which brings up another problem…..singers now will be switching (if they can get away with it) and use the excuse that Domingo has sucessfully done it. And for all of the past singers who switched…did they do it with the same notoriety as Domingo? Were they able to freely sing in another fach at major houses? Or was this management using a big name to fill seats?