At this link is an exhaustive review of Saturday’s Met Opera Faust. Accordingly, I refrain from analyzing the singers, but comment only on the production and the emotions it rouses.
Walking out of the movie house, one of our party, born and bred in East Germany, remarked: “I read all that in school, but this time it was different. Then it was a great work of philosophy. This time it came across as a morality play—a warning to young ladies not to sleep with strangers until they have a ring on their finger and society’s approval.”
At lunch today, I discussed the opera with a West German. He said: “I got a C in German because I told the priest of my school the poem was all about sex. He did not like my long hair and hippy attitude, so he marked me down. I still think the whole thing, including the opera, is about sex.”
Let us face it: the story as told in the opera is about unbridled sex, and its manytimes sad consequences. The stars of this performance oozed sex. Not a fat belly in sight. Instead, beautiful, handsome, and powerful. The soprano, Marina Poplavskaya, in flimsy dresses and besotted by a man, Jonas Kaifmann, in a double-breasted suite. She is so pale and beautiful, I will go see the opera again just to worship at her sight.
The man in a double-breasted suite is of such amazing looks and voice, you can only rush home to lock up your daughters. He is a little older and heavier than the picture on one of my favorite CD of his singing. But we all get older—that is the essence of the opera.
And the devil, Rene Pape, of such diabolical power that one longs to descend to hell to see what else is there. Why even the few-minutes widow is ready to flirt with him and be-bed him.
The opera is a favorite. I can see why. Given a chance to shed the years, I would give up my soul too. But what a bargain awaits us is the warning of this morality tale. Just like last night’s dinner party with the folk who flew today to Las Vegas. We talked of the strip clubs to the west of the main drive, of the cards handed out along the street with phone numbers of escorts, of the ultimate sensuality of it all. And we speculated what we would do given the money, freedom of family constraints, and the chance.
Yesterday’s Met production was superb. Obviously great singing, great acting, and stunning scenery. If only they had not gone of track with that silly attempt to make Faust a modern atom bomb maker. Why do we continually have to get the atomic bomb mixed up in opera?
Larry Selby was once a good friend. He is now dead. But I recall vividly him telling me how as a young man, he and thousands others were brought together as soldiers ready to be shipped out to the Japanese theater of war. He knew and they all knew they would die invading Japan. They feared; they were resigned; they dreamt of home and of sex. But they knew they had to invade to save their fatherland.
Luckily the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Sure lots of nasty Japs died, but they lived. They lived to go home to their beloveds and to breed and follow productive careers. Larry Selby could never feel sorry for those in Nagasaki and Hiroshima who died. He could never feel sorry for those of Dresden who died. They were part of nations that had chose to wage war, and this was part of what was needed to keep British and Americans alive.
Thus I get angry when some spoilt theater director, spoilt by safety and plenty, chooses to make an inane point against the atomic bomb in an opera (novel or play.)
Like Faust, those who died in Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki had made a pact with the devil and they got their deserts: a descent into hell with the devil. We cannot feel sorry for them and we should not try to celebrate them or make them good in opera.
The stupid fellow who tried to use Faust as a point against killing those in concert with the devil simply got things muddled. Faust and the devil and those who go to hell because of excesses of sex or violence or war deserve no sympathy. If the message of the Met production was that those who make bombs to kill, will go back and ravish innocent maidens of marginal intelligence, then maybe there is a point. But this misses the bigger point: we must make bomb to kill those who would kill us and rob us of the chance to have sex and breed.
If I have turned a simple opera into a lecture on war and sex, then I plead only that the MET chose to begin this conversation and they should not be allowed the final word.