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“Faust” is stylish and lavish despite last-minute fix

Portland Opera
11/04/2006 -  and 7,9,11 November 2006
Charles Gounod: Faust
Bulent Bezduz/Richard Crawley (Faust), Mark S. Doss (Mephistopheles); Richard Zeller (Valentin); Maureen O'Flynn (Marguerite): Kendra Herrington (Siebel); Christine Meadows (Marthe Schwertlein); Christopher Clayton (Wagner)
Vjekoslav Sutej (conductor)
Nicholas Muni (stage director)
Thomas C. Hase (lighting designer)

If Charles Gounod's 19th-century "Faust" is a warhorse, this lavish production proves the opera can be edgy. Bets are, you have not seen a "Faust" like Portland Opera’s.

Not to say the opera wasn't beset with problems on opening night. Rising-star tenor Bulent Bezduz took ill at the last minute and Richard Crawley, a Baltimore, Md.-based singer who hadn't performed the role of Faust in five years, was flown in. The show must go on.

Crawley warmed up to the huge role as the night wore on, though the company worked around his shortcomings. In "Walpurgis Night," a typically cut scene replete with sirens bathed in eerie light, he didn't sing. Instead Portland Opera's Studio Artist apprentice Heath Rush held forth from the orchestra pit. His voice was richer than Crawley's, so even there, the audience was rewarded.

The complex, three-hour production, plagued by long set changes and prolonged silences that annoyed the audience, was condensed from five acts into three by Nicholas Muni. Thank goodness for his genius reshaping. The emblematic sets and stark lighting modernized the piece. This production opened jaded eyes to an exciting new vision of the much performed opera built on Goethe's enduring devil-made-me-do-it

ther than the vivid sets, the star proved to be the enchanting soprano Maureen O'Flynn, who sang Marguerite beautifully. She can act as well as she sings. She took Marguerite convincingly from a young, protected woman's childlike acceptance of Faust through a slow, tragic fall as she kills her and Faust's child in wild hysteria to her transformation into an angel. Her portrayal was -- well, quite heavenly. (Be ready: The story is fraught with Catholic imagery and moral dilemmas).

Her jewel-box scene is beguiling, as she opens the treasure-filled box and her face lights up. She sees herself as beautiful and desirable. Her lyrical, soaring voice matches the quick rise of her girlish emotions and sets her up for the seduction scene.

As Faust's abandoned love object, O'Flynn hits sustained high Bs in her arias and ends with opera with a huge high B in the final duet. And she can go higher. At the end of the garden scene, she holds onto a high C. She was spectacular, and we don't get enough of her. She doesn't sing until Act II when she becomes the charge of Siebel, a young boy sung by opera apprentice Kendra Herrington in her rich mezzo. Kerrington, in her second year as a Portland Opera Studio apprentice, is well on her way to stardom.

Baritone Richard Zeller as Marguerite's brother, Valentin, sang strongly. While bass-baritone Mark Doss's Mephistopheles was entertaining, he didn't stretch the limits of the conniving devil's role. What an opportunity to inject a bit more swaggering Mick Jagger-like stage presence to match the contemporary settings!

Considering the last-minute casting problems and up-front production challenges, the lavish opera was pulled off stylishly. This "Faust" will be even better with Bezduz's recovery. He is a sexy performer and is well-suited to the role of a plagued Faust, done in by the devil. And that story,we all know, will never go away.

Angela Allen



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