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Santa Fe's 'Faust' Entertains With a Few Winks


by Olin Chism 9 Aug 2011

Good old Faust used to be one of the most popular operas in the repertory. It’s not that any more, but the Santa Fe Opera shows it would be a mistake to underestimate the potential of a work with such a treasure chest of appealing music.

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Bryan Hymel as Faust (center) in the Santa Fe Opera production

Olin Chism’s Santa Fe Opera reviews:

Good old Faust. It used to be one of the most popular operas in the repertory. It’s not that any more, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the potential of a work with such a treasure chest of appealing music. Nobody leaves Faust complaining that you can’t hum the melodies.

The Santa Fe Opera has revived Gounod’s masterpiece for this summer’s festival. Director Stephen Lawless has ignored the danger that someone may think he’s secretly making fun of the work; indeed, he emphasizes some of the things that 19th-century audiences loved but contemporary viewers find hokey.

A prime example is the grand finale, with Marguerite forgiven for her sins and soaring to celestial realms. Lawless has her climbing through the pipes of a brightly lit, super grand organ while the orchestra thunders away.

Another bit of perhaps tongue-in-cheek entertainment is the lengthy ballet sequence (generally omitted in modern times). The audience sees, displayed in glass cases, six famous lady sinners — Helen of Troy, Delilah, Cleopatra, Salome, Manon and Carmen, if I remember correctly. Each comes out and dances for Faust’s delectation.

Mephistopheles is a little more amusing than usual (he’s by far the most charming character in any Faust). Vocally, Mark S. Doss may not rank as one of the classic Gounod devils, but he’s OK and certainly an entertaining comic actor.

The generally satisfactory cast for Monday night’s performance included Bryan Hymel (Faust), Ailyn Perez (Marguerite), Christopher Magiera (Valentin), Jennifer Holloway (Siebel) and Jamie Barton (Marthe). I found Magiera, Holloway and Barton particularly appealing. Hymel, who portrayed Faust in the first part of Santa Fe’s run, is holding over after his scheduled successor, Dimitri Pittas, suffered an injury in Europe.

Conductor Frederic Chaslin kept Gounod’s score flowing smoothly, and the Santa Fe orchestra and chorus were in great form.

Benoit Dugardyn’s set designs, Sue Willmington’s costume designs and Nicola Bowie’s choreography are an apt complement to Lawless’ straight-faced but winking stage direction.

One complaint: Gounod’s five acts are played with only one intermission. The opera began to feel almost Wagnerian before the break came.

Santa Fe’s performances continue through Aug. 27.

All photos by Ken Howard.

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