In Review > North America

Faust

PHILADELPHIA
Academy of Vocal Arts
4/28/15

The Academy of Vocal Arts Faust onApril 28 didn’t advance the cause of opera as valid drama very far, but made for an impressive evening purely vocally. Veteran director Tito Capobianco, long associated with AVA, returned with an unfortunately over-busy scheme of video projections behind and beside the tiny Warden Theater playing space. Though the occasional image — an outdoor Brueghel for the Kermesse, for example — made good visual sense, the rest, which clashed in color and style with Val Starr’s traditional costumes, often seemed a technologically dated art history lecture, robbing needed focus from the action. Capobianco was able to impart his experience to the principals’ interactions, yet even this seemed to miscarry in one case. Talented Cajun bass-baritone André Courville has the live-wire stage presence and fine, wide-ranging voice that the role of Méphistophélès demands, but he seemed to be performing some amalgam of imposed Treigle and Ramey shtick (constant unmusical cackling, floor-rolling and incessant facial hamming) so that despite his vocal quality his performance became inorganic and tiresome.

The exigencies of a small stage and limited personnel usually demand cuts for practical reasons. There was no ballet, of course; many choruses disappeared — the Soldiers’ “Déposons les armes” can stay lost in my ideal version — though the Church Scene effectively used pre-recorded chorus and organ. Act III’s ravishing melancholy prelude vanished, the repositioned “Avant de quitter” in its place. But the real shocker, a disservice to the interpreter and audience both, was skipping Marguerite’s Ballad of the King of Thulé, which helps to explain her character. Melinda Whittington, an attractive lyric soprano with a firm high C, in need of more stylistic seasoning, had to launch right into the (trill-free) Jewel Song. This elision, coupled with Capobianco’s directing her to twirl and simper like Disney’s Snow White, robbed the heroine of dignity. 

Michael Adams (Valentin) showed a fine instrument but oversang, as if tackling middleweight Verdi rather than Gounod. The only principal sensitive to the tapered dynamics and clarity phrasing French style demands was Diego Silva, a convincing Romantic hero dispensing a beautiful, lightly vibratoed star-quality tenor tone: this is a career to follow. Alexandra Schenk embodied Siébel touchingly, vocalizing aptly save for unintegrated, spiky top notes. Mezzo Kristina Nicole Lewis (Marthe) reaffirmed her striking personal timbre; Jorge Espino offered a solid Wagner. Christofer Macatsoris led, occasionally overpowering his singers but eliciting good string playing; brass entries could be dicey. spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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