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April 21, 2012

Mini-review: Lyric Opera Baltimore's 'Faust'

For those of you who may be wavering about whether to catch the final performance Sunday afternoon, stop the wavering and go. This is one to catch.

No, not because of the contemporary production, which has its effective points, but does not entirely convince.

And certainly not because of the stagecraft -- there were several amateur-night-in-Dixie moments Friday night at the Lyric involving basic lighting and coordination elements that a professional company should be able to avoid.

The reason to take in this "Faust" is ...

the opportunity to drink in a very satisfying account of Gounod's rich score.

In my dozen years here, I can't recall offhand hearing a tenor fill that theater with more pure beauty of tone, security of technique and expressive ardor than Bryan Hymel summoned last night as Faust. His was a very classy, eloquent singing. (We sure could have used him for Lyric Opera's "Traviata" last fall.)

Stefania Dovhan also impressed greatly as Marguerite, delivering a good deal of radiant vocalism and interpretive intensity. It was good to hear this gifted and internationally busy soprano in this house at long last; she did her early studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts.

And, even allowing for an apparent indisposition (lots of coughing into his sleeve between phrases), Kristopher Irmiter had the vitality to carry off the role of Mephistopheles.

Sturdy supporting work came from Lee Poulis (Valentin) and Irene Roberts (Siebel), and the chorus made some notable contributions.

Presiding with authority, sensitivity and a flair for building to dramatic peaks, conductor James Meena provided another substantial plus.

I'll have more to say later about the production, but suffice it to say for now that, musically speaking, this is easily the richest achievement of Lyric Opera's first season -- reason enough to make the Sunday matinee.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:02 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Clef Notes


As a college student, I found this show entrancing, but I'm appalled at how little the company is doing to draw in a young audience.

If I have a choice between taking a group of six friends to a club with an $8 cover charge to see nationally known Indie talent or dragging them to a show where the "cheap" student seats are $20 ... well, we just lost six potential new opera fans.

Dear LOB: Emulate Mexican opera houses and get a ten buck standing area for EVERYONE, including the scary unwashed non-student youths, with heavy e-mail promotion to students at UB, which is right next door*. Or wither and die. Your choice.

*OK, fine, you can give them a dollar discount if that's the only way you can get the UB people to let you into their e-mail list. Just find some way to get them coming. It also wouldn't hurt to confirm the tantalizing rumors I'm hearing. Are you really commissioning an opera called "Stringer Bell?"

I never thought I write a comment on an opera blog, but here goes. I thought Marguerite's transformation in the jewel scene from an achingly adorable innocent young woman to what she became was done too suddenly. The badinage between her two sides was unconvincing IMHO.

Hope I'm not too late to encourage more to go to the performance this afternoon. The singing was excellent across the board, but I thought Roberts as Siebel was especially memorable. How well the smaller roles are sung is a measure of how strong the company is. That they were able to find such singers for each role is a very good sign. I missed the other two operas, but if this is a measure of where the new company will go, we are in good shape. I'll be back for next season.

Please forgive the delay in posting your comment. I had a bit of a personal emergency Sunday that lasted well into Monday. TIM

April 23, 2012

I guess we all see and hear things differently… I liked what I heard at Baltimore Opera’s Faust. I was not as enthusiastic as you were, I miss the elegance of French delivery exemplified in modern times by the likes of Alfredo Kraus and Nicolai Gedda [of the non French]… But as much as opera is singing it is also staging and acting, and the Faust production we had to endure was probably one of the worst things I have seen in much more than recent memory. I kept on getting the impression that the creator of this production was out to prove to the world just how clever he could be… and Gounod’s sweet, melodic and superficial music does not lend itself to a lot of interpretation. Faust is, recognizing its limitations, a very beautiful piece and I really wanted to like it –the singing saved the night but for this listener just barely as the staging was so full of gimmicks, cleverness and and just bad taste..

I saw the Sunday afternoon performance and agree with you about the musical aspects. The setting that the opera was forced into is another matter. As soon as the curtain rose I knew what we were in for when I saw large words such as SIN, LOVE, and OLD AGE on the backdrop, placed there to help us understand the story in case we didn't get it. The final scene in the mental ward encouraged laughter rather than emotional uplift. (Since when do people in mental wards walk around with IV's, and nurses wear high heels and red stockings?) At several points I closed my eyes and simply listened to the music. I have no problem with rethinking operas but none of this made any sense within the original context of the story and only served to distract one from the greatness of the music.

In a word this Faust was awful. The highlight of the Friday production was the discovery that so many had left before the start of the third act that there was no wait to exit the parking garage.
Opera is a visual experience. One should not be required to close their eyes to enjoy the performance.
.I am truly sorry that, for her first Opera, we took our daughter to see this misguided event.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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