New York Daily News, November 30 2011
Joe Dziemianowicz
Gounod: Faust, Metropolitan Opera New York, 29. November 2011
Jonas Kaufmann goes atomic as ‘Faust’ at the Metropolitan Opera
'Jersey Boys' director resets Gounod classic in nuclear age

It takes more than everyday oats to make a war horse like “Faust” canter with a fresh kick.

It takes an original idea.

And “Jersey Boys” director Des McAnuff, in his Metropolitan Opera debut, has come up with a bold one in his star-studded and stirringly sung vision.

In the Tony-winning director’s take on the 1859 pact-with-the-evil romance, Faust is an aging nuclear physicist considering his role in the death tolls of World War I and II.

Suffice it to say that when Charles Gounod’s “Faust” was the inaugural Met offering in 1883, Fat Man and Little Boy (the bombs’ nicknames) were nowhere to be seen.

But they are here.

Met favorite Jonas Kaufmann plays the suicidal doctor in this “Faust,” a production shared with the English National Opera, and shares a kinship with “Doctor Atomic” and “Dr. Strangelove.”

An odd mashup? Yes.

But a compelling enough one, since wide-scope atomic annihilation mirrors the small-scale destruction of fair Marguerite by Faust and Mephistopheles.

Robert Brill’s airy and imaginative multilevel steel laboratory set works well to support the singing. Two towering spiral staircases frame the stage and give the evil the perfect high perch from which to gaze upon the sorry affair he’s set in motion.

Sean Nieuwenhuis’ video projections of faces and restless clouds lend arresting imagery, while Peter Mumford bathes the action in moody and colorful lighting. Paul Tazewell’s suits and uniforms define the period and Kelly Devine’s jagged choreography for a hellish jig feels just right.

Not everything about the almost 4-hour production does. A stately pacing tends to sap energy. And at times, the visuals — the everything’s-coming-up-roses seduction, for instance — comes off as corny, not cool.

As compensation, there are musical riches galore. The orchestra, led by Yannick Nezet-Seguin, is captivating. Large ensemble scenes are wonderfully in unison.

In supporting roles, mezzo-soprano Michele Losier and baritone Russell Braun shine as Marguerite’s would-be suitor and fair-weather brother.

The three principal roles are exceptionally wellsung.

As the angsty Faust, Kaufmann brings a rich warm tenor that brims with great emotion; he was nearly swooning as he idealizes Marguerite’s virtue in the aria “Salut! Demeure chaste et pure.”

As the object of his ardor, soprano Marina Poplavskaya has a voice that’s clear and plummy it sparkled especially bright in the lovely Jewel Song.

And bass Rene Pape was outstanding as Faust’s wily, well-dressed wingman. His singing was consistently strong, his phrasing elegant. Is it any wonder why the audience leapt to their feet as he took his bow It wasn’t the Devil — his talent made them do it.


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