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In Review > North America

Faust

DETROIT
Michigan Opera Theatre
5/9/15

Charles Gounod’s Faust is among the most frequently performed operas in the world, even a century and a half after its premiere. Faust has aged to a point that reinterpretation through a contemporary lens is crucial if its relevance to modern audiences is to be revealed. The story already has a reputation for malleability: originating centuries before the Goethe novel upon which Gounod distantly based his opera, the tale has been reframed well into the twentieth century by the likes of Stravinsky, Thomas Mann, and many others. In this light, seasoned director Bernard Uzan’s unimaginative presentation at Michigan Opera Theatre constitutes at best a missed opportunity and, at worst, an artistic sin (seen May 9).  

Generations of stars have cut their teeth on Faust’s sumptuous score. MOT’s traditional production of Faust’s deal with the devil starred three principals new to their roles.

Bass Matt Boehler was the highlight of the evening as the conniving Méphistophélès. His rich, meaty voice kept the audience and cast alike in thrall. Tall and lithe with a broadly expressive face and the timing of a comedian, Boehler controlled every character on the stage with a flick or flourish.

Tenor Russell Thomas spun a uniformly warm, stunning tone as Faust, impressive even into the highest vocal reaches. Unfortunately, his physicality was stilted: his performance lacked motivation and expression, disappointing for the character whose intense desire could be the opera’s dramatic engine. As the tragic Marguerite, Caitlin Lynch delivered a shimmering, youthful soprano that was as natural in her giddy “Jewel Song” as in the final frantic act. Her acting was unconvincing until the final scene when, unmoored from a pairing with no discernible chemistry, she rendered Marguerite’s mercurial madness with breathtaking release. 

During his brief scenes as the boisterous Wagner, baritone Zachary Coates’ expansive, playful presence upended the dour atmosphere of the first act. As Siébel, mezzo-soprano Kimberly Sogioka was pixie sweet. Her brilliant timbre sliced through the orchestration and her unrequited love, given only the thinnest of subplots, was poignantly painted. Mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely offered a luxurious tone and sharp acting choices as Martha, and the rapport she and Boehler cultivated enabled them to steal the third-act quartet.

Paul Steinberg’s set design featured little else than a perilously raked, circular wooden bridge, dotted with sparse set dressing and enriched by Donald Thomas’ light projections. Although Méphistophélès was dashing in black velvet and a blood red satin cape, the rest of the costumes by Toronto’s Malabar, Ltd. were less satisfying. Faust’s navy doublet and breeches were easily lost under his often low lighting, while Marguerite’s conspicuously elegant cream gown was out of place among the earthier bodices and skirts of her peers. spacer 

JENNIFER GOLTZ-TAYLOR

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