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Joseph Calleja's golden voice graces 'Faust'
Calleja, Furlanetto join cast in "Gounod's 'Faust' at Metropolitan Opera
By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) ' Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky night at the opera for fans of Joseph Calleja.

After missing part or all of two previous performances because of illness, the Maltese tenor was back in golden voice to take over the title role in Gounod's "Faust" at the Metropolitan Opera.

From his opening phrases as the aged scientist who sells his soul to the devil to regain his youth, Calleja displayed the quality that makes his voice instantly recognizable ' a warm, sun-kissed sound enhanced by a rapid vibrato that focuses his tone rather than spreading it.

There's an ease and a generosity in his vocalism as well. When he took a diminuendo, gradually lowering the volume on the high C that caps the aria "Salut, demeure chaste et pure," his face glowed with a sense of pride and pleasure in sharing the rare accomplishment with his rapt audience.

Stepping into the Des McAnuff production late in the run, Calleja had a rumpled, slightly bemused look and was a bit of a cipher dramatically. But what does that really matter, when he is able to communicate so thrillingly with his voice?

Calleja was part of an almost entirely new cast for "Faust," the only holdover from the opening being soprano Marina Poplavskaya, who repeated her vocally flawed but dramatically compelling performance as Marguerite.

The other most notable newcomer was bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, who sounded in astonishingly robust voice as Mephistopheles for someone who began singing major roles at the Met more than 30 years ago.

Furlanetto, sporting a Van Dyke beard that made him resemble a silent movie villain, brought a dark, menacing sound to the role ' very different from the suave and silky tones of his predecessor, Rene Pape. His mocking serenade to Marguerite had a nasty bite to it, and his powerful outbursts in the church scene sounded, well, downright diabolical.

The bright-voiced mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey did a fine job with the trousers role of Siebel; as Marguerite's implacable brother, Valentin, baritone George Petean failed to make much impact in his aria or his death scene.

The orchestra played well for conductor Alain Altinoglu, but his reading of the score was oddly fitful, buoyant at times, but also dragging in spots.

There are two more performances with the same cast this week.

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