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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust - opera in five acts (1856-9)
Faust – Jan Peerce (tenor)
Méphistophélès – Cesare Siepi (bass)
Valentin – Robert Merrill (baritone)
Marguerite – Victoria De Los Angeles (soprano)
Siébel – Mildred Miller (soprano)
Marthe - Thelma Votipka (mezzo-soprano)
Wagner - Lawrence Davidson (baritone)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York/Pierre Monteux
rec. live, the Met, 19 February 1955
ANDROMEDA ANDRCD 5037 [78.44 + 78.20]

 

 

I’m not sure if all Fausts at the Met were outstanding but all the ones I’ve heard from this time – including an earlier one from Beecham  - certainly have been. The French Wing was certainly an august one at the house when such as Beecham and Monteux were in charge.

This performance from February 1955 features the genial and splendid conducting of the seventy-nine year old Monteux – he and Beecham seem to have favoured relatively relaxed readings there – and Monteux proves once again how much we owe to broadcast survivals such as this to augment and cement our appreciation of him as an operatic conductor. Take a listen, for example, to the sheer class and elegance of his conducting in Act II’s Ainsi que la brise. He presides over a rip roaring cast – De Los Angeles, Peerce, Siepi, Merrill, Mildred Miller and Thelma Votipka - who sang Marthe for Beecham as well - and Lawrence Davidson. The results are consistently exciting and illuminating.

A few words about the cast. Peerce was a pugnacious singer but had poor French. His beefy Rien! En vain shows how he means to carry on – a rather belligerent confidence suffuses his singing. The strong Italianate cast to his singing makes itself apparent in Salut! Demeure chaste et pure where French elegance is in short supply but Italian beef is not. Siepi’s Act I Mais ce Dieu scene with Faust is eloquent, almost in fact avuncular. The voice itself is finely controlled and well deployed across the range and he makes a characterful and impressive stage presence. There’s no mugging in Act II’s Le veau, much to its advantage and even in Act V’s La jour va luire he not only resists the lure of stentorian pronouncement or adamantine tone but remains sympathetic and credible. He’s one of the most worthy features of this set and is a Méphistophélès to reckon with the greats. De Los Angeles shows exceptional refinement and elegance; everything sounds perfectly secure. Trills are perfectly centred in Ah! je ris de me voir. In her Act III conclusion she is more than merely plausible theatrically. Some may perhaps baulk at the crystalline purity of it all but against such beauty of tone most will have no defence. Votipka proves entirely reliable, indeed more, in her Act III Seigneur Dieu and she and Siepi have some richly warm moments together. I rather enjoyed Merrill’s performance – it’s not blustery at all and though his French pronunciation is not secure he makes a convincing turn out of Valentin.

We can hear throughout that the choir tends to be rather woolly. Some entries are rather muffed but they do show spirit and a few dodgy moments are soon swept up in the collective mêlée. The recording is not at all bad but the broadcast date of 1955 is not really so distant in any case. There are no notes, just a track listing. I tend to favour the Beecham Met over this by a small margin but for admirers of conductor and singers this Monteux-led performance is an engrossing one.

Jonathan Woolf

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