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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 575

updated
Saturday, 20 September 2008

FOOTLIGHT NOTES
images of theatre and other popular entertainment
1850s-1920s

Miolan Carvalho
a carte de visite photograph of Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho (1827-1895), French operatic soprano

(photo: Camille Silvy, London, 1 June 1861)

'FAUST AT COVENT GARDEN.
'The difference between the representations of Faust at Her Majesty's Theatre and at Covent Garden is so great and so distinctly marked that we believe it to have been designed by M. Gounod, (who assisted at the production in each case,) with no small advantage to his own work, and no prejudice at all to either house. There are two ways of reading Goeth's Faust, it may be read literally as the story of a village girl whose plain substantial love is stolen from her by unholy arts, who is betrayed and forsaken, yet in her hour of uttermost distress finds pity in heaven; or it may be read mystically as a soul's tragedy of the Devil's war against the innocent. From the same two points of view M. Gounod apparently means London to see that his musical setting of Faust will also bear to be regarded. At HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE we have the real; at COVENT GARDEN the ideal side of the conception. But the ideal to a great extent includes the real, and is clearly the point of view from which especially the music was composed. After hearing the Faust at the Haymarket one takes it to be a first-rate work of the second class. But add to the knowledge thus acquire a re-hearing at Covent Garden, and one knows M. Gounod's Faust to be an individual work of the first class, with no more fault than can be found in almost any other work of genius. Goeth's own sketches of Margaret present distinctly in ideal outline the image of a real and artless village girl. That is the Margaret of Madlle. Titiens, who plunges substantially into an abyss of love, - according to the libretto with a rapidity that it needs the incantation of a strong Mephistopheles than Mr. Gassier quite to excuse, - flings Siebel's flowers to the other side of the stage when fastening upon the jewels, and with help of Signor Giuglini brings out in the garden-scene the whole material and sensuous charm of the music. Read thus in the usual operatic way, one could hardly find in any opera more melodious tenderness between the Edgardos, the Raouls, and the Rosians. The tenderness is all there in the Covent Garden version; but in the acting and in the music we feel that Margaret is stirred not by her own girlish human impulses, but by the prevailing arts of Mephistopheles, who put an evil charm even into the perfume of the garden flowers.
'Madame Miolan Carvalho, who has been taught by M. Gounod himself how he intends her part of Margaret to be played, and for whom its music was written, represents no so much the girl as the girl's soul. Even in the dressing of the part, this is remembered. until her fall she walks in virgin white, the idealization f the character marked strongly by contrast of her dress with the gay peasant costumes of the other girls. Betrayed and forsaken, her white has been changed for grey. After the death of her brother, his last words laying his death at her door, she enters the cathedral with dress black as ink; no which, but in great sleeves like wings about the arms she lifts in prayer. The utmost force is here given to the significance of her struggle with the mocking fiend. In prison she wears grey again, with a white lining; and she ascends at last in pure white to the skies. In her acting, Madame Miolan Carvalho represents first the still pure maiden spirit, on the way to church when Faust first meets her. Afterwards, re-entering her garden, payer-book in hand, and through a strait of sacred melody wondering who was the stranger that accosted her, she does not fling away Siebel's flowers, but drops them unconsciously as she submits with an innocent grace to the fascination of the devil's jewels. When Faust and Mephistopheles arrive, at the first near approach of Mephistopheles to Margaret there is a sudden jar in the music, Margaret is fluttered and half faints, and there is an exclamation of defiant hatred from the disguised fiend; but that first shock of the contending principles underlies natural dialogue that accounts otherwise for the fiend's cry and for Margaret's faintness. In the Haymarket reading of the piece, the thought here intended is conveyed; but it seems rather a small detached effect than, as at Covent Garden, necessary to the harmony of the entire performance. In the more spiritual version, Margaret under fascination does not seek Faust, hardly dares to look at him, delivers her love up wonderingly. In the duet Tarda si fa, the whole sense of her acting is represented by the thought that follows on her sense of a new bliss ''O dolce voluttade, - O mistero! Not as in human rapture of love, but as a soul under a spell, poor Margaret delivers herself up in the lines, ''Ti voglio amar, idolatrar!'' The magic scent of the flowers is about her; she is as one in a strange dream even when she rests her head upon Faust's breast. Then follows the short sharp struggle of her better nature, and when she retired to her house it is in reverie that she breaks only to turn with a timid, graceful, fond salute to Faust from her threshold. In the closing plaint of Margaret from her window, which she begins sitting, and during which she rises pressed with the magical longing to her full height in the window, Madame Miolan Carvalho maintains to the last the sense that it is Mephistopheles, not Faust, who has achieved the cruel victory.

Jean-Baptiste Faure

Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830-1914), French operatic baritone

(photo: Lock & Whitfield, London, late 1870s)

'And here we must turn from the Margaret to commendation of the Mephistopheles of the Covent Garden Faust, who is represented by M. Faure with great dramatic skill, in full accordance with this spiritual reading of the opera. He even wins an encore for the ''Dio dell' or,'' in which he delights to set the world chorusing the praise of Beelzebub; and instead of M. Gassier's hunted Figaro, we have a malignant fiend stricken with deadly terror, quaking, shrinking, gnashing his teeth, when Mephistopheles is banned with the crosses on the sword hilts of the students. His mocking serenade at the door or forsaken Margaret is no longer the almost incomprehensible excrescence it appeared, as given by M. Gassier, in connexion with the other reading of the opera. Here we have seen in the drama, and felt in the music, a conflict between a pure soul and a mocking fiend; and the serenade, as given by M. Faure, has mockery for its natural tone, but is the devil's cruet song of triumph in its motive.
'A transposition of scenes in this act, as performed at the Haymarket opera, seems to confirm our impression that M. Gounod meant to show separately at the London houses the two sides, spiritual and human, of his work. In the Haymarket version, the fiend's interference with the prayers of Margaret takes place with diminished emphasis outside the cathedral, and is followed by the killing of Valentine and his curse on his sister, which forms the climax of the act. This is transposed from the original arrangement, and the effect of the change is to bring out with more emphasis the material incidents of the story, and to throw its allegorical sense more into the background. At Covent Garden the original order is restored. The curse has fallen upon Margaret before the struggle in the church of the despairing soul with the demon who lurks to betray it, and that conflict forms in a great cathedral scene the climax of the act. Mephistopheles speaks to his victim from within a side chapel, where, by a skilful arrangement of the lights and shadows, he stands like a spectre. Again, - to hurry at once to the end, - the redemption of Margaret's soul is not represented slightly by a transparency, but dwelt upon in a substantial group that fitly crowns an opera remarkable even at this house for the luxurious completeness of its stage appointments, and so brings the allegory to its right, emphatic end. But Faust is held to his bargain. At the Haymarket, where is is chiefly shown as one of a pair of human lovers, he is, we believe, with M. Gounod's consent, saved.
'Though we have hurried through the noble last act, we must not forget to mention how finely in the rendering of Madame Miolan Carvalho the soul of Margaret, strong in prayer and victorious over the tempter, at last strides forward and stands fearless breast to breast with its great enemy.
'Signor Tamberlik is a good Faust, his quality of voice being of especial value in the opening act, but he is not equal to Signor Giuglini in the love-music. Signor Graziani sings as well as Mr Santley, but not better, the part of Valentine. Madame Didiée is all that can be desired of Siebel. Signor Tagliafico ensures, as actor and singer, fullest efficiently to the rendering of the small part of Wagner, and Madlle Lustani's Marta deserves also its good word. The stage appointments and groupings are perfect, and the choruses given most effectively, except that the old men's part of the chorus in the Kermesse loses much of its comic quaintness for want of the peculiar quality of voice demanded by it from the singers. As for the orchestra, in a work like Faust, rich in orchestral fancies, painting and shadowing every thought expressed on the stage, here everything depends most safely upon Mr Costa and his comrades. So smoothly runs the well-considered music that we seem to hear M. Gounod thinking.'
(The Examiner, London, Saturday, 11 July 1863, p. 440a/b)

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