Santa Fe’s Faust a Devilishly Good Time?
by Christie Connolley
Do you love the the Santa Fe Opera as much as I do? I love the open-air theatre, the warm desert nights, the delicious Mexican food! (Opps… looks like I strayed from the subject there!) Looks like Lawrence A. Johnson of Classical Review is warming up to the idea. Check out his review of the recent production of Faust. Check out the Operagasm review run-down!
A devilish first: “It took more than half a century for the envelope-pushing New Mexico company to get around to their first performances of Faust, presented Monday night. While Santa Fe Opera’s Faust is hardly one for the ages vocally, it succeeds brilliantly in providing a stylish, often dazzling production that manages to make Gounod’s tale of love, sin and spiritual redemption emerge as fresh as new paint.”
The star of the show? The updated setting: “Director Stephen Lawless and scenic designer Benoit Dugardyn have updated the action from 16th-century Germany to La belle époque, with drop-dead gorgeous period costuming by Sue Wilmington. The city square in Act 1 is a dingy circus fair with the usual oddities (Siamese twins, bearded and fat ladies, and a midget) in large glass booths. Dugardyn’s eye-popping tableau must have taken up most of the production budget with the subsequent scenes reverting to a darkly lit Minimalism. The revamped booths return, deftly, as a church confessional through which Mephistopheles tricks Marguerite, and as Amsterdam-style show booths for the Walpurgisnacht Scene, with history’s most sensuous women each taking a turn lap-dancing for Faust (effectively choreographed by Nicola Bowie).
The chorus of soldiers are arrayed in period German regalia complete with spiked Kaiser Wilhelm headgear; the demons in the church scene with their shaved heads and long leather coats presage a more ominous manifestation of 20th-century German militarism. Yet while taking a daringly imaginative approach with several striking visuals — beautifully lit by Pat Collins — Lawless’s clever retooling treats the scenario with respect, avoiding the brand of revisionism that tells us more about the directors than the operas they are staging.”
Warm it up Chris (or in this case, Bryan)…. I’m about to: “As Faust, Bryan Hymel took a while to warm up in Act 1 until he delivered a clarion top C in the duet with Mephistopheles. From then on, he could do little wrong. The American tenor’s forthright vocalism could have used more Gallic elegance at times, but Hymel brought a vibrant and imposing tone with rich, powerfully sustained top notes as well as lyric sensitivity in Salut! demeure (too bad about the sour violin solo). The tenor also showed himself a superb actor, bringing a more complex morality to Faust than usual, as with his grief-stricken remorse after Valentin’s death.”