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It burns so good

The Rover 19.05.2012

Two gentle people of the better sort were waiting for us at the opera. They had paid something like a firstborn for the privilege and I was not about to disappoint. I wore the gown normally reserved for Café Cleopatra and the Standard Opera Companion wore nothing at all, just a litre of burning gasoline that had to be messily replenished every forty minutes. We didn’t expect to be upstaged by the show.

Opera de Montreal displayed an unfamiliar amount of good taste on Friday with their new production of Gounod’s Faust. It is the finest production I’ve heard in Montreal and the first time the opera here has played to its strengths.

The casting was superb, featuring four young talents that came up through the Atelier Lyrique. Etienne Dupuis (Valentin), a charmer whose voice is blooming in front of our ears. I barely believed mine; I thought he was doomed to light comedy. Mezzo Emma Parkinson, her lovely voice the colour of tea, though she was sometimes overmatched by her trousers role as the faithful Siébel; baritone Philip Kalmanovitch, who brought joy to the stage totally out of proportion to his minor part; and Antoine Bélanger as Faust.

The Bélanger tenors, father and son, have cornered the market. It is an attractive gamble to pair them up as Old Faust and Young Faust, but neither had the charisma of the younger Montrealers or the evening’s two imports, Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov and the American soprano Mary Dunleavy. The elder Bélanger had tragedy in his step but sounded thin and disappeared in the trio, while the younger was solid but faded against the copious talent onstage.

Vinogradov was the star of the evening; one of those unforgettable singers like aliens who emit beautiful sounds the way other people cough. His voice will carry him to the top and his joyfulness should keep him there.

Grandmother’s response to my ebullient praise for Vinogradov? To suggest he had been “grown” by the KGB and that I should drink less. I didn’t mention any warm feelings for the American then, but since my grandmother doesn’t read English (on principle), I can say it now: Mary Dunleavy is the world’s most advanced Brita filter. Her pianissimo is like a paper airplane.

The orchestra had a wonderful new charioteer, Emmanuel Plasson, refreshingly liberal with the whip, while sets and direction were perhaps the biggest surprise, coming from the same team that brought us the impressive banality of La Bohème (they have evidently left the island since). Particularly clever was the use of a demonic gang to rearrange the minimal, modular set, a cue for the machinations that our anti-hero had enmeshed himself in.

I’m afraid this alignment of luck and intelligent decisions might never happen again, so go see this production. And take somebody; it is good enough to mint new opera fans.