Beijing Debuts French Dramatic Legend: Feature

After the success of the China Philharmonic Orchestra's 2002 New Year Concert, the orchestra is ready for its next significant move.

On January 22 and 23, the China Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Berlioz's dramatic legend "La Damnation de Faust," which will be the China premiere of this romantic work.

Featuring renowned French tenor Jean-Pierre Furlan, Chinese baritone Liao Changyong and mezzo-soprano Cao Zheng, the dramatic legend will be sung in French.

Under the baton of Yu Long, artistic director of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chorus of the China National Symphony Orchestra will also join the performance.

Berlioz's "La Damnation de Faust" is one of many 19th- century musical works based on Goethe's "Faust." This popular poem was used by many composers who set it to music, including Wagner, Schumann and Liszt.

Berlioz did not write an opera. He called "La Damnation de Faust" a "dramatic legend." It is a succession of somewhat static scenes, more like a pageant. Most of the action doesn't even happen on the stage but "within the music."

The first performance of "La Damnation de Faust" was only attended by a small audience. Only two performances were staged during Berlioz's entire lifetime, both failures.

"...Faust twice performed to a half-empty room. The concert-going Parisian public, supposed to be fond of music, stayed quietly at home, caring as little about my new work as if I had been an obscure student at the Conservatoire; and these two performances at the Opera-Comique were no better attended than if they had been the most wretched operas in the theatre's repertory..." wrote Berlioz in his memoirs.

The failure might be due to the unfamiliarity of the audience to Berlioz's new form of "dramatic legend," which differed from both traditional opera and chorus works.

However, since 1877, "La Damnation de Faust" became one of the most welcomed works in France. More than 100 productions of it were staged in 30 years. Tunes from the work such as "Rakoczy March," "Dance of the Sylphs" and "Dance of the Will-o'-the-wisps" also became favourites in concerts.

The year 2003 will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Berlioz. Supported by the French Embassy in China, the China Philharmonic Orchestra's "La Damnation de Faust" will be a tribute to the great French composer.

In the China Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of the work, the three main characters, Faust, Mephistopheles and Marguerite will be played by Jean-Pierre Furlan, Liao Changyong and Cao Zheng.

Furlan was a winner of the "Cle d'Or 1996" at La Halle aux Grains in Toulouse (France), in the "Soloists and Young French Singers" concert series, organized and conducted by Michel Plasson.

He first studied the trumpet at the Toulouse Conservatoire and at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, where he won several prices.

Furlan started singing in 1985 with Christiane Patard and decided, one year later, to dedicate himself totally to this art. In 1987, he entered the French army choir where he quickly emerged as soloist.

During the 1992-93 season, Jean-Pierre Furlan made his debut in "Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Role of Hoffmann)" at the Paris Salle Gaveau and at the same time took part in the recording of this work.

In the following seasons, he appeared in many other key roles, including two Fausts, one in "Damnation de Faust" at the Opera d'Avignon and one in "Faust" at the Opera Royal de Wallonie in Liege.

Baritone Liao is a winner of many international awards, including first prize at the 1997 Placido Domingo Operalia Competition, the largest international vocal competition, first prize at the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Norway and first prize at the 41st Toulouse International Singing Competition in France.

Born to a farmer's family in rural Sichuan Province in Southwest China in 1968, Liao was recruited by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music at the age of 19. Trained under renowned professor Zhou Xiaoyan and tenor Luo Wei, he completed his bachelor's and master's degrees and was recently given the prestigious position of vocal department director at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

On November 10, 2000, Liao made his US debut at the Kennedy Centre singing Count di Luna in "Il Trovatore" with the Washington Opera under the baton of Placido Domingo.

The highlights of Liao's performances in the last three years have included performances with Jose Carreras in a joint concert to inaugurate the Shanghai Grand Theatre, at the Bergen Music Festival with Anne Sophie Mutter and Cecilia Bartoli, and in a joint New Year's concert with Domingo in Shanghai.

Mezzo-soprano Cao Zheng, who also graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, was a winner at the 1993 Palm Beach Opera International Vocal Competition.

Cao was personally chosen by maestro Seiji Ozawa to sing Beethoven's ninth Symphony for the recent Olympic Games in Japan, and appeared with him again in the role of Suzuki in "Madame Butterfly" for her debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in February 1999.

Cao has also covered roles for the World Premiere of Lukas Foss's "Griffelkin" with the New York City Opera.

Cao's recent projects include Marguerite in a concert presentation of "La Damnation de Faust" at the Saito Kinen Festival under Ozawa, immediately followed by her debut with Michigan Opera Theatre as Rosina in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" and Idamante in "Idomeneo" with the San Francisco Opera.

( People's Daily January 21,2002)

Chinese, Czech Musicians Join in Beijing New Year's Concert