Opera, March 2016
Hugh Canning
Berlioz: La damnation de Faust, Paris, Opera Bastille, 8. Dezember 2015
La damnation de Faust
Jonas Kaufmann as Faust, returned to Paris to share the run of performances with Bryan Hymel. His vocal performance was astounding; perfect intonation, elegant of phrase and subtle of nuance. In the tricky Bastille acoustic his voice sounded beautiful, though not notable for its power. Sophie Koch was a convincing Marguerite and Edwin Crossley-Mercer, another admirably consistent artist, made an ideal Brander. If Kaufmann was the star of the evening, its true hero was Bryn Terfel as Mephistopheles. Like his colleagues on stage, he sang with elegance and assurance, but he surpassed them in idiomatic articulation of the text and his projection was superb. Conducting the orchestra of the Opera National de Paris, Phillipe Jordan crafted the score exquisitely, as is his wont, but Berlioz maybe demands more grit and gleam.

Hermanis, drawing on a large budget, had clearly thought deeply about the piece, but ultimately the production fell victim to contrivance. Looking to shine a contemporary light on the myths that underpin the story, Hermanis set the action in 2025 and made lavish and impressive use of video projections. Events were no longer set in motion by a rejuvenating pact with the devil, but by plans for 100 or so people to leave Earth and start a new life on Mars. In this context, Faust took the form of a rea-life advocate of space colonization, the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. He was portrayed by two performers: the dancer Dominque mercy, confined to a motorized wheelchair, and Kaufmann, standing on his own two feet, wearing a present day suit and occasionally looking a little lost. In the opera’s final moments, Hawking, seemingly weightless in space, was freed from his wheelchair.

Inspiring and moving as that was, it came at the end of an evening that further confused the identity of a hybrid work.

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