Gounod’s Faust: the Devil’s in the details
The Austin Lyric Opera orchestra sounds better and better and the cast of singers is outstanding. We are privileged to enjoy a memorable production of Gounod’s Faust.
All begins well. Faust has the opening of the opera to himself, and Jonathan Boyd sings beautifully and compels attention. The scene-stealer throughout is Mephistopheles, and Jamie Offenbach commands the audience from his very first entrance. The silent-screen-villain business is made for him. Once the soul-selling bargain is complete, we first meet the soldier Valentin and then his sister, Marguerite, soon to be the object of the attentions of the rejuvenated Faust. The character of Valentin is essential to the plot and Hyung Yun is an example of the excellent casting of this production. Jan Cornelius, our Marguerite, is a fine physical actress and has a beautiful voice, employed to full effect. From Siebel (Claire Shackleton) and Marthe (Cindy Sadler) to every member of the chorus, the singing is delightful.
The music never loses its enchantment, but the embodiment of the plot on stage becomes a bit peculiar, even ludicrous at times. Satan and the three devilettes in red wigs, the tableau vivant in which the figures become animated, the insane asylum, and more just cannot be properly described, but must be experienced in person. Several members of the audience near us really couldn’t completely stifle their laughter, and that’s understandable. In addition, what began seeming to be a sensible utilitarian set and production design required two quite lengthy scene changes behind a closed curtain in the final act. The projection of various words in bad typefaces added nothing praiseworthy, either.
At any rate, there’s one remaining performance, today at 3 pm at the Long Center, and tickets are still available. KMFA radio, at 89.5-fm, will broadcast it live, with commentary beginning at 2:30 pm. The music is sung in French and supertitle translations are shown above the stage proscenium. There are excellent reasons for the immediate and continuing popularity of this opera. It’s always a treat to hear it played and sung so beautifully.