” ‘Faust’ was even Abraham Lincoln’s favorite opera,” conductor Steve Mercurio said one day last week before rehearsal at the Detroit Opera House. “He had seen it in New York, and he saw it twice in Washington.”
Public and critical affection for “Faust” cooled by the 1940s, but the work never disappeared. These days it seems to have settled into the category of operatic comfort food — part of the regular diet but not as rarefied a delicacy as Mozart or as juicy a potboiler as, say, Puccini’s “Tosca.”
At the same time, the devil isn’t nearly as scary a villain in the more secular 20th Century as he was in a more pious past. And when you can go to the movies and get the bejesus scared out of you by Dracula, the Mummy, King Kong, aliens, poltergeists and Freddie Krueger, what’s the big deal about a Prince of Darkness in red tights emerging from a trap door?
The challenge for any contemporary “Faust” — besides delivering the musical goods — is to sidestep the issues of hokum, melodrama and sentimentality in favor of a good-versus-evil morality tale that draws on the expressions of lost youth, sexuality, vanity, greed and sincere religiosity that seethe beneath the surface.
As Uzan puts it, “Faust” is always relevant because the desire to be young again and the seductive power of evil never go out of style. “I want to make audiences think about what evil — not necessarily the devil — can make them do,” he said.
FAUST ~ In Gounod’s grand opera, Faust, the title character makes a pact with the devil, exchanging eternity for youth and temporal love.
Grand opéra in three acts
Music by Charles Gonoud
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré
Premiered in Paris, 1859
Sung in French with projected English supertitles
Running time 3½ hours
Free Opera Talk
One hour before curtain
“Surviving is important.”
“Thriving is elegant.”
May 1, 2015
April 28, 2014