Columbia Daily Spectator, December 8, 2011
By Reuben Berman
Gounod: Faust, Metropolitan Opera New York, ab 29. November 2011, Vorstellung am 10. Dezember 2011, Kino
'Faust': Des McAnuff’s production turns Met Opera stage into a devilish mess
New Met Opera puts a romantic spin on Lit Hum stand-by
If Metropolitan Opera manager Peter Gelb had to make a deal with the devil to acquire Des McAnuff—director of “Jersey Boys”—to produce “Faust,” it would seem that the devil got the better end of the agreement. Just as a deal for youth, knowledge, or riches has its pitfalls, so does a new production of a classic opera. Gelb seems to have fallen into more than one such pit with this production, which will be performed at the Met Opera intermittently until Jan. 19.

In the Met Opera’s more modern conception, the post-war setting seems to fit. Faust, an aging scientist who worked on the atomic bomb, regrets his life, and seeks to end it, only to be saved by Mephistopheles. The latter grants Faust renewed youth in exchange for servitude to the devil after death. Faust is brought back in time to WWI, before the damage of atomic weapons had been realized.

At its heart, this opera is a love story. It is not the “Faust” of Goethe, read by every first-year currently in Lit Hum, focused on questions about the soul and science. Even as it deals with motifs like the devil and war, “Faust” is essentially about a man wooing a woman—and about the fallout of his actions. Mephistopheles is simply a humorous afterthought and plot device.

Instead of focusing on the romance, McAnuff’s set resembles a laboratory, with tiered metal catwalks that loom ominously over the stage and enclose the entire opera in an aura of gloom and despair. He also dresses the chorus in lab coats, adding to the eerie nature, which turns out to be terribly out of place when Marguerite—the woman Faust pursues—attempts to escape damnation by Mephistopheles or when she later ascends to heaven. Equally perplexing is the larger-than-life man who points a finger at Mephistopheles just before the end of the second act—the play gives no clues as to the nature of what he represents or who he is. Questions of setting arise time and time again throughout the production, leaving the audience uneasy and uncomfortable and never entirely sure about what is going on.

Fortunately, however, this jumble of a production doesn’t impede the abilities of the singers or the orchestra. The bass Rene Pape, as the dangerous and charming Mephistopheles, emerges onstage dressed to the nines in a Panama hat and white suit. He keeps the audience enthralled by his spellbinding voice, especially during his song about the Golden Calf. Jonas Kaufmann is tremendous as Faust, appearing in his first production since performing a personal recital on the Met stage, an honor reserved for the most impressive of stars. The tenor adds layers of feeling and passion to his arias, especially when he is conversing with Marguerite, sung by the equally passionate but sometimes imprecise soprano Marina Poplavskaya.

Under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the orchestra performs spectacularly, keeping up a good tempo and rousing passions, yet never overpowering the singing onstage. Like the professionals they are, the stars of the show continue onward. Unfazed by the mess that the staging creates for the audience, they offer enough incredible sound to keep the viewers from needing to open their eyes.


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