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Successful but uneven

Maison Symphonique de Montréal
09/12/2013 -  & September 15, 17*, 2013
Hector Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust, opus 24
Michael Schade (Faust), Anna Caterina Antonacci (Marguerite), Philippe Sly (Méphistophélès), Alexandre Sylvestre (Brander)
Chœur de l’OSM, Andrew Megill (choir director), L’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano (conductor)

P. Sly (© Adam Scotti )

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra inaugurated the 2013-14 season with Hector Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. Anna Caterina Antonacci, one of today’s leading operatic singing actresses, was incandescent as Marguerite. The longing of the ingénue in the “Roi de Thulé” aria, the rapture in the love duet and the despair in “D’amour l’ardente flame” made one wish the work was more about Marguerite than about Faust. Given the conviction and generosity of this singer, some slightly strident high notes were only a minor bother.

Bass-baritone Philippe Sly, at age 24, is already an impressive Méphistophélès. He was totally at ease in the role both stylistically and vocally. His beautiful timbre made this demon appropriately seductive. His perfect diction in French was in stark contrast to that of tenor Michael Schade. It was hard to believe that the veteran tenor, clinging to the score at every moment, has already sung this role several times. At moments one could believe that, while the other soloists sang the work in the original French, he was singing in a different language. As is often the case, poor diction was accompanied by lack of expressiveness. No nuance was expressed throughout the role. It seemed that this Faust was never transformed from a cynical old man into an ardent young lover. Only in his final aria “Invocation à la nature” did Schade show some emotion. Faust is a demanding role and requires a unique voice, which to a large extent Mr. Schade actually has; however the equally important requisites, style and passion, were totally lacking.

In the absence of a valid Faust, the chorus played the most important role in this work. Well prepared by Andrew Megill, they were the true stars of the evening.

Overheard during the intermission were laments for the era (1977-2002) of the most elegant conducting of the MSO’s previous music director, Charles Dutoit. Nonetheless, the orchestra was in great shape under the baton of Kent Nagano.

Ossama el Naggar



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