Lyric Opera of Chicago
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  • by Hector Berlioz
  • In French with projected English translations
  • Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

AWESOME. PROFOUND. AND WILDLY AHEAD OF ITS TIME. FAUST'S PACT WITH THE DEVIL HAS INSPIRED SCORES OF COMPOSITIONS, BUT NONE MATCH THE GRANDEUR AND SCOPE OF THIS BERLIOZ EXTRAVAGANZA! 

Like a film, it moves at lightning speed from scene to scene — from enchanted forests to Heaven to Hell. Like a dream, it's filled with wondrous beings, from angels to creatures that would scare Satan himself.

Be amazed as our artistic team brings this extraordinary world to the stage with more than 200 projections and incredible use of light. And be thrilled as Sir Andrew Davis leads our orchestra, chorus, and cast in a musical tour de force.

Paul Groves "delivers the full range of Faust's character from suicidal depression to ecstatic love..." Classics Today

Susan Graham "is a wonderful Marguerite, singing breathtakingly and unforgettably...and John Relyea is a visually commanding Méphistophélès, mixing stentorian power with seductive lyricism." The New York Times

The Damnation Of Faust

Lyric Opera production generously made possible by Mr. and Mrs. William C. Vance, Mrs. A. Watson Armour, Edgar Foster Daniels, the Mazza Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

New Production

Lyric Premiere

 

Paul Groves 

Faust
Paul Groves

Susan Graham

Marguerite
Susan Graham

John Relyea 

Méphistophélès
John Relyea

Christian Van Horn 

Brander
Christian Van Horn

 Sir Andrew Davis

Conductor
Sir Andrew Davis

Langridge Headshot

Stage Director
Stephen Langridge*

Souglides Headshot

Designer
George Souglides*

gobell headshot

Lighting Designer
Wolfgang Göbbel*

Boesche Headshot

Projections Designer
John Boesche

Nally

Chorus Master
Donald Nally

Giraudeau Headshot

Choreographer
Philippe Giraudeau

                   

*Lyric Debut

Click here to view the full cast and biographies.  

Damnation of Faust Article

Audiences are in for a thrilling ride when Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust comes to Lyric. It will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen or heard here.

The source is familiar: Goethe’s Faust, a 200-year-old tale of a scholar’s deal with the devil. Goethe wrote it as a “closet drama” — meant only to be read, not acted out onstage.

Of all the composers inspired by Goethe, “no one produced a work nearly so prodigious as this, nor captured so much of the sweep and grandeur of the literary model, nor evoked so vividly spirits supernatural above and beneath us” as Berlioz, according to the late author John N. Burk.

Hector Berlioz (1803-69) considered Shakespeare and Goethe his “mute confidants.” He composed “Eight Scenes from Faust” in his 20s; two decades later he crafted The Damnation of Faust, a 20-scene, 150-minute work for orchestra, massive chorus, and soloists. “The subject, traversing heaven, earth, and hell, fired his imagination and exploited his love of sudden and complete contrasts,” wrote Burk. “He makes his chorus a panoramic background to the soloists while the scene constantly changes at the devil’s command. Thus the drama is enacted almost entirely before crowds…who give us every variety of choral effect….Berlioz, with a sure musician’s instinct, chose only what suited his purpose and freely altered the sequence of events to produce a tight and swift moving narrative with dialogue to draw the whole together.”

The “dramatic legend” has been performed mostly in concert since its 1846 premiere. It was first staged in Monte Carlo in 1893; the Metropolitan Opera mounted the U. S. stage premiere in 1906, and didn’t present it onstage again until 2008.

Which brings us to Lyric’s upcoming date with the devilishly challenging work in a new production. Three longtime collaborators — stage director Stephen Langridge, designer George Souglides (whose designs for John Adams’s A Flowering Tree at Chicago Opera Theater were a hit last spring), and lighting designer Wolfgang Göbbel — will make Lyric debuts, joined  by projections designer John Boesche (creator of the sensational projections for Lyric’s Lulu) and choreographer Philippe Giraudeau (whose work in Lyric’s Dialogues of the Carmelites was so movingly memorable).

Langridge notes that rather than write a conventional opera, Berlioz created a dramatic and musical form that suited his unique creative vision: “Berlioz conceived it for a theater that didn’t exist – he was ahead of his time.” The time-and-space-traveling tale flits from Hungary to Germany, from tavern to grove, from bedroom to hellish bedlam and finally to heaven. It features the self-absorbed Faust, the oh-so-accommodating Méphistophélès, the lovesick innocent Marguerite, plus peasants, students, soldiers, churchgoers, gnomes, sprites, sylphs, will-o-the-wisps, the damned, and the sanctified.

“It’s almost like the Ring cycle compressed,” says Souglides. “You traverse several worlds, as in the Ring — you’re just not spending five hours in each realm.” (Wagner commenced work on the Ring just two years after Damnation premiered.)

As in the Ring, Damnation’s libretto paints vivid word pictures of unseen events and phenomena. “We won’t be illustrating the music in a sort of Fantasia way,” says Langridge. “We’ll tell the story as clearly as we can and involve the audience in Faust’s journey.” He and his colleagues see Faust “as an obsessive mathematician or physicist, looking for the basis of nature through math rather than a telescope.”

The English director notes that Berlioz’s libretto “plays fast and loose with the narrative. Faust is an established, mature person but not old, so he’s not going to be ‘rejuvenated,’” as in Goethe and Gounod. “It’s more ‘new-girlfriend-and-fast-car time’ for Faust!” Langridge says with a laugh about the protagonist’s timeless midlife crisis. He adds that Berlioz profoundly alters the legend’s moral equation by having Faust journey with Méphistophélès but not sign away his soul until the end — to save Marguerite from damnation.

Souglides, a Greek designer now based in France, envisions Faust “in a white room, which then opens up as he starts talking about nature. For him nature is in his calculations, not looking outside his windows and seeing trees and flowers and birds. That’s how the
projections start, with the mathematical world made visible. Gradually the set will open up to reveal the world of the chorus — the happy outside world.”

High-tech wizardry that Berlioz might have sold his soul for will help bring his dramatic legend to life onstage at Lyric. “We decided to use projections because of their fluidity, and also because we’ve got the right artist,” says Langridge of Chicago-based John Boesche (whose designs have also been seen in Lyric’s Tannhäuser and Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe stagings). At the production team’s first meeting, Boesche recalls, “I pulled out my own Mephistophelean bag of tricks — a portable hard drive — with images and textures that I projected digitally directly onto George’s set model. The power to add a whole new layer of  physical staging and imagery by using projections is irresistible, given the subject matter.” The design will be “very rich, complex, and beautiful, within a very modern vocabulary of images — for instance words, numbers, and symbols swirling, falling, coming in and out of focus — a kind of modern computational alchemy. Most of the images will be solidly computer-generated animation.”

The idea of Faust as an obsessed researcher will resonate with anyone who spends endless hours at a computer, Boesche notes. “There were tech nerds back then — they just didn’t have computers, only piles of books. A big part of the story is Faust’s despair while completely isolated in his work. When he moves out into the greater world, he is unprepared for the temptations and
moral choices he must make. Faust isn’t a distant, tragic figure, but someone we clearly recognize and even identify with.”

The production team is captivated by Damnation’s thrilling score, as well. “The excitement of the music made me fall in love with it — the colors, the strength of it,” Souglides says. “What we want to create onstage is the force of the music — the momentum of the music. It takes you by the throat and throws you into this world. It’s extraordinary.”

Clearly, audiences can expect a wild and wondrous ride when this dramatic legend comes to life on Lyric’s stage in February.


DEMONIC DUO: TWO TAKES ON THE FAUST LEGEND by Wynne Delacoma
Gounod's Faust - October 5 - November 7 Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust - February 20 - March 17

 

For the first time in one season, Lyric audiences can experience a "demonic duo" — two operatic versions of Goethe’s epic drama Faust

Charles Gounod’s Faust returns in October, a vibrant production by Frank Corsaro and Robert Perdziola first seen at Lyric in 2003-04. In February comes Hector Berlioz’s  The Damnation of Faust, a new production and Lyric’s first venture into his colorful operatic universe. Sir Andrew Davis conducts both works.

The French composers were inspired by Goethe’s cautionary tale of Faust, a discontented scholar on the verge of suicide who is seduced by Méphistophélès’s promises of restored youth and romantic conquest. The resulting works were written in roughly the same era and premiered in Paris — Berlioz’s in 1846 and Gounod’s in 1859. But in matters of music, text, staging, and the main characters’ psychological makeup, they could hardly be more different.

Faust  is the epitome of 19th-century French opera — lavishly scaled, bursting with beguiling melodies, many of them among opera’s greatest hits. Generations of sopranos and audiences have adored the “Jewel Song,” its liquid trills and darting phrases expressing Marguerite’s naïve delight at the  bijoux  the crafty Méphistophélès has left as a gift from Faust. Act Four includes the famous, resolutely hopeful “Soldiers’ Chorus” and Méphistophélès’s equally well-known “Serenade,” a cynical portrait of young love harshly punctuated by the devil’s own taunting laughter.

This is opera at its grandest — the work that inaugurated the Metropolitan Opera House in 1883 and a staple of opera companies internationally during the late 19 th century and well into the 20 th .

When Berlioz composed  The Damnation of Faust  in the mid-1840s, his vision was far different from that of the French opera of his day. Subtitling his piece a “dramatic legend,” Berlioz compressed and rearranged Goethe’s sprawling story into four parts with a running time of well under three hours.

There are gorgeously luxuriant arias and duets, spiced with sparkling orchestral touches that bring the opera’s characters and locales to vivid life. Among them are two popular baritone showcases, Méphistophélès’s jaunty serenade, “Devant la maison,” and his soothing lullaby, “Voici des roses.” Three instrumental interludes — the bouncy “Rákóczy March,” the stately “Minuet of the Will o’ the Wisps,” and the dreamy “Dance of the Sylphs” — are staples of the orchestral repertoire. The chorus is a powerful force throughout  The Damnation of Faust, often propelling the action. Exploding with high-spirited syncopations, the cheerful song of the “Peasants’ Dance” heightens Faust’s existential despair, though later on, the solemn joy of a choral “Easter Hymn” banishes his thoughts of suicide.

The Damnation of Faust  unfolds with quick scene changes and shifts of time and place that are positively cinematic. The 18 th scene with Faust and Méphistophélès on racing horses literally bent for hell is something that not even the most technologically advanced 19th-century Parisian opera house could have hoped to dramatize onstage. Berlioz conceived  Damnation  as a concert opera, conducting its first performances himself. The most celebrated orchestras, soloists, and choruses throughout the world have performed it consistently with great success, but only in recent years, with production technologies such as video projections now available, has the work found success in the opera house.

And not a moment too soon for Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director. “The British have always had an affinity for the music of Berlioz. They welcomed him and his music during his lifetime in a way his compatriots never did.”

The Damnation of Faust  was a case in point. Little more than a year after conducting the premiere performances before disastrously empty houses in Paris in December 1846, Berlioz made his London debut leading a concert that included the work in early 1848. Julius Benedict, then one of England’s top composers and conductors, called it the season’s most important concert.

“Berlioz was such an incredible innovator,” said Sir Andrew. “When you think that the  Symphonie fantastique  was written three years after Beethoven died, it makes you realize what [Berlioz achieved] and how shocking it must have been when this music first appeared. There were no rules, no expectations. What he did with the orchestra was quite remarkable.”

Even with 21st-century technology, Sir Andrew admits that bringing  Damnation to the opera stage is a challenge. “Berlioz thought of it as an opera of the mind. Several scenes evoke different locales, including heaven and hell, and they change very quickly, so it’s a technical challenge for a director and a designer. It also has to have a sense of the fantastical, but at the same time it has to tell the story, such as it is.”

Faust, though structured with time-honored operatic conventions in mind, poses its own challenges. “Clearly Gounod’s is a much more conventional opera,” said Sir Andrew. “But I’m looking forward to it because it’s a real masterpiece.  Faust  is one of those operas some take for granted. It wears its heart on its sleeve, but it’s very important that the piece not be sentimentalized. You need to find the core emotions and be sure that they’re not debased.”

Lyric’s “Faustian feast” this season will feature three outstanding devilish dynamos: German baritone René Pape and American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen in the fall, and Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea in the winter.

Relyea, debuting at Lyric as Méphistophélès in  Damnation, has performed both the Gounod and Berlioz works. He appeared with his Lyric costar, Susan Graham, in a well-received production of the Berlioz at the Metropolitan Opera last fall. “I’m pleased that my Lyric debut is going to be [this Méphistophélès],” said Relyea. “It’s grown to be one of my favorite roles. The Berlioz is more through-composed — it doesn’t feel like arias and ensembles strung together as in most standard opera.”

But the characters in Berlioz’s version are as fully drawn as any in the opera repertoire. “[Méphistophélès in] the Gounod  Faust is a little more of a character role in a way,” said Relyea. “There’s a little more humor. In Berlioz, there is definitely the irony and some of the sarcasm, but it’s not quite so out front. You have a sense of Berlioz’s Mephisto being a little more of a gentleman and a guiding hand. I think there’s a little more depth to him.

“When he’s being tender and seductive, he’s really doing it in a very convincing way. In ‘Voici des roses,’ there’s nothing artificial about it at all — he wants to create something of beauty. He’s very much at the helm all the time, steering things along. When you look at the Mephisto in the Gounod, it’s almost a parrying situation. In Berlioz, it’s really Méphistophélès controlling the entire illusion.”

Pape, who portrays Méphistophélès in Lyric’s revival of  Faust, has sung the role at the Met in 2005 and in Orange, France, in 2008. (Ketelsen sings the final three performances.)  The New York Times  called Pape’s portrayal “robust, incisive and chilling….These are [his] first performances as Méphistophélès, and he already owns the role.”

Opera News  praised his “mesmerizing performance as a Méphistophélès of awesome malevolence…his sinister, accented French only adding to the power of his interpretation. He was also delightfully funny in his dealings with the amorous advances of…Dame Marthe.”

Lyric audiences have been captivated by Pape’s blend of richly expressive voice and powerful stage presence, most recently as Rocco in  Fidelio in 2004-05. He seizes the stage the moment he appears and holds our attention even when he is not front and center. Few who heard his King Marke for Lyric (1999-00’s  Tristan und Isolde ) will forget the experience. Standing quietly, full of kingly dignity, for close to 15 minutes he held us spellbound with his outpouring of anger and disappointment at Tristan’s betrayal.

Pape’s repertoire is wide-ranging, as the title of his 2008 debut solo CD — “Gods, Kings and Demons” — makes clear. It includes arias from both  Faust and  Damnation, though he has never performed the full Berlioz work.

“I’ve enjoyed doing kings, even gods. I enjoy every role I do,” said Pape. But Méphistophélès is a special case, both simple and complex. “Not so much is challenging in this role,” he admitted. “The devil stays the devil. But it depends on the production. The devil is a fantastic role because you can show so many colors of the character. He can be seductive, mean, funny, deranged. I actually like to do that.”

No doubt about it — the devil will get at least double his due this season at Lyric!

Discography and Videography

 

CDs

Veasey, Gedda, Bastin, van Allan; London Symphony Orchestra, cond. C. Davis. (Philips)

Baker, Gedda, Bacquier, Thau; Orchestre de Paris, cond. Prêtre. (EMI)

Shkosa, Sabbatini, Pertusi, Wilson-Johnson; LSO Live, cond. C. Davis. (LSO Live)

Todorovich, Myers, Vernhes, Schirrer; Orchestre National de Lille, cond. Casadesus. (Naxos)

In the world’s ever-growing appreciation of Berlioz, we would have been much the poorer without the massive contribution of Sir Colin Davis, a real pioneer where this composer is concerned. If his second performance is valuable for preserving his thoughts on the work after decades of experience with it, his first performance boasts a significantly more effective cast. The tenor there, Nicolai Gedda, can also be heard in EMI’s performance, which also features two artists who are beyond compare in this work – Dame Janet Baker (Marguerite) and Gabriel Bacquier (Méphistophélès). Hearing Bacquier’s way with his native tongue is a pleasure of the first order, but the listener is also fortunate that the baritone’s partners – an English mezzo and a Swedish tenor –  are so adept in French as well. Not at all widely heralded, the budget-priced Naxos performance boasts a skilled French conductor and four musicianly and eloquent vocal soloists, among whom the luscious-voiced Marie-Ange Todorovich is outstanding. The recording on the Erato label featuring Lyric Opera’s Marguerite, Susan Graham, has unfortunately left the catalogue but may still be available via certain on-line sources.

 

DVDs

Kasarova, Groves, White, Macco; Staatskapelle Berlin, cond. Cambreling, dir. La Fura del Baus (ArtHaus Musik)

(CONCERT PERFORMANCE) von Otter, Lewis, van Dam, Rose; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, cond. Solti. (ArtHaus Musik)

Paul Groves, who sings Berlioz’s Faust at Lyric this season, has made this role a specialty internationally. He doesn’t yet appear on CD in The Damnation of Faust, but fortunately, he leads the cast in the only DVD of a staged performance of Berlioz’s “dramatic legend.” The much-debated postmodern production is from the 1999 Salzburg Festival. In a bold move, The Damnation of Faust was assigned to Alex Olle and Carlos Padrissa of the innovative Catalán theater troupe Fura del Baus. The result is a high-tech presentation, rather sterile in character and as far removed as one can imagine from a realistic depiction of the individual scenes. Central to the scenic scheme is an enormous transparent cylinder, seemingly of clear plastic or Plexiglas, on which the chorus and principals can be positioned for lengthy periods. One wonders how the mezzo Vesselina Kasarova felt about singing from within the cylinder, high above the stage, for Marguerite’s exceptionally difficult second aria.

A musically spectacular Damnation of Faust is offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in an historically significant performance — historic in that it was part of Sir Georg Solti’s farewell tour as the CSO’s music director. The venue is the massive Royal Albert Hall in London, the occasion one of the 1989 Promenade Concerts. Many CSO chorus members cite their performances with Solti in this work as the most memorable musical experiences of their lives. There is indeed a passionate commitment in the music-making of all concerned here, especially the exquisitely sensitive Marguerite of Anne Sofie von Otter and the matchlessly elegant devil of José Van Dam.

Sir Andrew Davis Previews

Think spectacular! Think fantastic! Think big! Rarely staged because of its extraordinary musical and theatrical demands, Berlioz's wondrous creation makes its lyric debut.

Backstage at Lyric #78

February 19, 2010

DiscoveryDamnationSir Andrew Davis calls it “an opera of the mind.” It is that and much more in this new production, which comes alive with projections and technical wizardry that Berlioz could only dream of. Join the singers, conductor, and director for a stimulating discussion of Berlioz and his most adventuresome work.

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Backstage at Lyric #77

February 15, 2010

DonaldNally100WLyric Opera's Chorus Master Donald Nally is Backstage at Lyric!  In this podcast, Maestro Nally discusses Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust and the extraordinarly challenging music performed in that work by the chorus.  While recapping highlights of the current season, Maestro Nally also shares what he's looking forward to at Lyric in 2010-11.  Hosted by Roger Pines.

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Backstage at Lyric #76

February 15, 2010

John Relyea John Relyea recaps his career and speaks with host Roger Pines about Lyric Opera's new production of The Damnation of Faust.  In this interview, he discusses the music of Berlioz, his preparation for the role of Méphistophéles, and a love for Russian music that was fulfilled when he performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg.

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Backstage at Lyric #51

The celebrated American tenor Paul Groves stars as Faust in Berlioz's spectacular and rarely staged The Damnation of Faust

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The Damnation of Faust Commentary

The Damnation of Faust
By Hector Berlioz

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2009-2010

2009 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

The Damnation of Faust Commentary

The Damnation of Faust
By Hector Berlioz

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2009-2010

2009 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

The Damnation of Faust Commentary

The Damnation of Faust
By Hector Berlioz

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2009-2010

2009 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

The Damnation of Faust Commentary

The Damnation of Faust
By Hector Berlioz

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2009-2010

2009 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

The Damnation of Faust Commentary

The Damnation of Faust
By Hector Berlioz

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2009-2010

2009 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.