After missing the only-English season opening of the London Symphony Orchestra this was to me the real season opening. This was the courageous programme: a work that has been part of the orchestra glorious tradition and one of its peaks with Colin Davis recording.

Two changes from the announced cast:

  • One month ago Florian Boesch was replaced by Gábor Bretz as Brander. Not a big deal as it the shortest role
  • One week ago Gerald Finley was replaced by Christopher Purves. I really love the British politeness of saying “Gerald Finley is unwell and has been forced to withdraw”. C’mon! The poor guy suffered appendicitis just two days before opening the Wigmore Hall autumn season! That is not being unwell, that is a high level screw up!

Rattle is not an opera conductor in the belcanto tradition sense. He is good with the Wagner and post-Wagner operas where voices are part of the whole sound, at the same level than the orchestra. You can easily see this in his concerts: he pays more attention to mark the beats for the percussion than to the singers. And as he is smart that is why he won’t make any Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and even Verdi operas. He won’t work tirelessly hours with the singers to get perfect the ensemble numbers neither wait for them to adjust the orchestra to their fiato.

Berlioz operatic style is a little bit on the middle. The orchestration is fully rich but sometime it enters the accompagnato mode to let the singers fully advance in the drama.

Therefore it was a high risk night, not easy at all. Fortunately all the soloists were superb. Bryan Hymel is like the Berlioz specialist nowadays. He has sung the Faust role many times with different orchestras and conductors and he got easily on the Rattle way. At some moments he had to make an extra effort to get his voice over the merciless massive orchestral sounds but he did it very well. It will be a pleasure to listen to him again at the Royal Opera House in Les Vêpres siciliennes and Cavalleria rusticana.

Karen Cargill was stunning. What a beautiful tone! She is a truly wagnerian mezzo with extra points of expressiveness and lyricism suited to the earlier romantic repertoire. Fantastic!

Purves joined the party singing a wonderful Mephistopheles. He was able to show all the different moods and faces of Mephistopheles though his singing and acting. Kudos to him for achieving this.

At some points singers tried to act. Probably totally improvised or at least not rehearsed/directed. It’s almost impossible doing a dramatic acting while holding a score, so most of these looks and gestures were pointless. Specially ridiculous was Bretz acting like conducting the choir for the Fugue just 2 meters away from Rattle doing it properly. But we forgive it.

The London Symphony Orchestra was a perfect machine and Rattle conducted it with amazing precision. He demanded and the orchestra delivered. It was a joy to see Rattle expressions and movements over the podium and listening the results from the LSO. He even sweat. No one can say Rattle is not earning his salary.

The magical moment came close to the end with the boys and girls choirs entrance. Rattle turned around to face them and focus on conducting them while letting the orchestra and adult choir to play “alone”. I read this as a statement of intent: children first, education is top priority. Good time for music in London/UK.