11/11/2011 - & November 12, 13 (Phoenix), 19, 20 (Tucson), 2011
Charles Gounod: Faust
Raúl Melo (Faust), Greer Grimsley (Méphistophélès), Emily Pulley (Marguerite), Mark Walter (Valentin), Laura Wilde (Siébel), Luretta Bybee (Marthe Schwertlein), Daniel Scofield (Wagner)
Arizona Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Henri Venanzi (Chorus Master), Joel Revzen (Conductor)
Bernard Uzan (Director and Costume Designer), Fenlon Lamb (Assistant Director), Bernard Uzan & Eric Stroud (Set Designers), Michael Baumgarten (Lighting Designer), Doug Provost (Projection Designer)
(© Tim Fuller/AZ Opera)
Faust returns to Arizona Opera after an absence of twenty-one years in a co-production of Baltimore Opera and Opera Lyra, Ottawa. French-born director Bernard Uzan places the action around the year 2010, a half millenium or so jump in time that is, indeed, déjà vu. It remains valid, though, supported by a perception of “sin” that has evolved. “Satan”, in its time-worn imagery and paraphernalia, no longer appalls, nor freezes, nor mesmerizes, and thus does not resonate with modern audiences, except maybe in the context of a Halloween party.
Uzan updates the Kermesse scene to a contemporary bar/nightclub, Marguerite’s garden becomes a flower shop, the prison a mental ward, and the church scene - most certainly the best moment of the evening - a trap set by Méphistophélès. The latter successively appears as a bartender, a delivery man, a doctor, and even materializes as a priest in the church scene. While costumes are in keeping with a modern approach, imitation and parodies of today’s fashion appear arguable, and not always tasteful. And so do Lady Gaga, a break dancer, I-phones, to name just a few items of a pointless and incongruous bric-a-brac that now and then permeates the stage. Incessant projections by Doug Provost do not add much. Distracting at first, they are rapidly ignored . In spite of the above reservations, Uzan’s staging is consistent throughout and not devoid of interest.
G. Grimsley (© Tim Fuller/AZ Opera)
It must have been one of those nights for tenor Raúl Melo, an otherwise fine singer, whose Faust fails to convince. The acting is lackluster, the French enunciation excruciating, and the voice, in spite of a ringing high register, was simply not there last night.
Emily Pulley’s portrayal of Marguerite is alluring. Ideally demure and girlish in the jewel song, her character gradually reaches vibrant poignancy at the end of the opera in “Anges purs, anges radieux....”. High notes sound a little harsh but the medium range is full and rich in colors.
In the competition between the three leads, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley as Méphistophélès easily steals the show. Grimsley has an incredible stage presence, a stentorian voice, with the right sinister, devilish nuances, as well as subtle shadings. His Ronde du veau d’or (The Calf of Gold) is delivered with authority and panache. Likewise, his “Vous qui faites l’endormie…” is right on.
Baritone Mark Walker is a stylish Valentin, mezzo-soprano Laura Wilde in the androgynous part of Siébel sings with gusto and sincerity but the voice seems a little too fruity for a 17 year-old boy. Luretta Bybee is irresistible in her duet with Méphistophélès, while Daniel Scofield (Wagner) sings and acts up to the expectations of his short part.
In spite of some erratic starts in “Vin ou bière”, along with a French pronunciation that calls for improvement, Arizona Opera Chorus led by Henri Venanzi delivers a creditable performance. Their rendition of “Ainsi que la brise légère…" (Waltz), “Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux…” and the ethereal lines of the final scene is musically compelling.
In the pit, Joel Revzen draws a remarkable sound from the orchestra. He exploits the power of this refined music with a great sense of French style, occasionally giving a rhythmic lift to Gounod’s score.
This production is going to travel to Tucson, Baltimore, and Ottawa. With a few adjustments here and there, the undeniable qualities of Uzan’s staging should be even more enthusiastically recognized in those cities.