The IU Opera Theater’s production of Gounod’s Faust offers a dramatic, dark and thoughtful production, in the capable hands of stage director Tomer Zvulun, designer C. David Higgins, and lighting designer Michael Schwandt.
The Faust Of Today
The first act opens with the doctor in the present day. The contemporary set is complete with a wide-screen TV that Mephistopheles uses to conjure up images of Marguerite. Following temptation, it travels back in time to Faust’s youth in 1930s Germany. The flashy, decadent set and costumes evoke Cabaret or The Blue Angel, and for a few moments Gounod’s music and the persistence of French accents seem at odds with the images. After a little time, though, they settle into happy equanimity.
The gaudy, garish set and lighting are more than matched by a large cast of beautifully dressed and coiffed choristers, each of whom seems to have a particular place and part in the festivities. This is only the first of many set arrangements; the evening is a rich one, with all the elements of theatre working together.
One of the best-known songs from Faust is the “Soldiers’ Chorus,” with its resolute words about being ready to fight and die for one’s fatherland. The male chorus comes in frequently, all spit and polish, ready to go off to war. The IU production presents them coming back. They’re badly battered and some are so hurt that they can’t accept help from those around them. Near the end if the number, the soldiers point out at the audience. For a moment, the viewers become the society that’s sent them to war.
Saturday evening’s vocal palm went to Andrew Kroes for his commanding performance as Mephistopheles. His costuming alternates gaudy, traditionally devilish garb with modern dress. Jonathan Mathews plays the tempted doctor, who—I’m not sure why—seems to be wearing a bullet proof vest under his bulky suit jacket. Rebecca Nathanson sang well as Marguerite, her strength growing as the evening went on. Perhaps in order to gain our sympathy, Marguerite’s costumes were the least glamorous or attractive of any on stage.
Gabe Helton sang strongly as Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, and Rebeckah Valentine was charming as her neighbor Marthe. Zachary Coates was amusing as the student Wagner, and Rachel Milligan was boyish and cute in the fetching trousers of the lovesick Siebel. Conducting for this energetic and engaging production is by David Effron.
At the theater for you, I’m George Walker