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Subject: Re: Faust
From: Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 8 Dec 2017 20:04:29 -0500

text/plain (82 lines)

Dear Listers & Donald,

Donald and I must have attended the same performance of “Faust” at the Palais Garnier.  I 
saw it there in 1968, and remember reading in the papers that the production dated from 
1938, and it showed.  The much-used sets and costumes were shopworn and threadbare, 
and the production looked for all the world like the same one Tintin and his irascible sidekick 
Captain Haddock (along with the dog Milou/Snowy) had seen at the “Opéra de Szohôd” in 
the fictional country of Borduria in “Le Sceptre d’Ottokar / King Ottokar’s Sceptre” with the 
“Viennese Nightingale,” a.k.a. Bianca Castafiore in the role of Marguerite.  (“Le Sceptre 
d’Ottakar” was serialized in the Brussels comic book “Le Petit Vingtième” in 1938-1939, who 
knows if its author, Hergé, hadn’t seen the same Paris production I saw in 1968 ?).

See pics at
Cziuo2cqCLY/Vgj8r6y8FII/AAAAAAAAFuA/e7465fNFfiQ/s1600/tintin%2Bopera.JPG,, and
c&uact=8, and you will know what I am talking about.

I must say that the production was the picture of prettiness, all meticulously painted on 
backdrops and legs, every leaf in every tree, every piece of straw in the thatched roofs 
meticulously and lovingly rendered.  I *loved* it, even though the sets were visibly frayed 
and swayed if cast members got too close.  Had the production been new and fresh, it 
would have been enchanting.  The Marguerite wore a gown that seemed like one of Madame 
Castafiore’s cast-offs, and a ridiculous yellow wig with braids (yellow, not blonde) that was 
hysterically funny.  And yes, I do remember Méphisto appearing in a puff of smoke, 
although the singer didn’t cough.

I guess those were the “bad old days” of Paris Opéra, stuck in a pre-World War I (yes, One) 
time-warp.  To be perfectly honest with you, I would much rather see an old-fashioned but 
true-to-libretto production rather than most of the Regietheater gahrbahge inflicted upon us 
these days — as long as the production was fresh and tidy, not shopworn as was the Paris 
production in 1968.

Speaking of “Faust,” I recall another humorous incident during a very traditional production 
at the Opéra de Nice when I was just a boy.  In the church scene, Méphisto was supposed to 
appear in a narrow Gothic window, lit by a bright red flare or Roman candle.  Unfortunately 
(1) the stagehand who was supposed to light the Roman candle was late (or lost in the dark 
backstage), which caused another stagehand loudly to yell, “Hé, Jojo, magne-toi l’cul, y’a l’ 
Méphisto qu’attend son feu de Bengale” (“Hey, Joey, move yer bloody arse, here’s ole Meph 
waiting for his Roman candle !”), which caused the audience to erupt in laughter, then, 
when the hapless Jojo had lit the flare, what the audience saw framed in the Gothic church 
window was none other than . . . Jojo in blue French working man’s overalls, because he 
and Méphisto were standing in the wrong places !!!  Méphisto shoved Jojo aside so he could 
sing his bit, which caused the audience, which was still laughing, absolutely to dissolve into 
hysterics and applaud loudly.  Ah, the joys of opera in provincial France in the pre-May 1968 
era !!! 

Cheers and all the best,


Alain Letort
Washington, D.C.
Des Ungeheuers Höhle

On Fri, 8 Dec 2017 10:51:14 -0700, Donald Levine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Count me in the Faust corner.  My first performance was as a 14 year old at
>the old Palais Garnier in Paris.  The production was probably from the
>1890's and I remember was it  the young Faust or Mephisto emerging from a
>puff of smoke?  Don't remember, but I do remember the singer starting with
>a great big fit of coughing.  I thought it hysterical.

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