Faust by Berlioz put me to sleep last season.  I wasn’t expecting much better from Gounod’s version.  Especially since descriptions of Gounod dismiss him as being piously Catholic.  I couldn’t be more wrong.  I loved it!  The director placed Dr Faust as part of the Manhattan Project, haunted by the ghosts of Nagasaki.  Faust and Marguerite are projected onto a giant screen like an image of Big Brother: Faust as dystopia?  Despite working around bright young things for scientists, Faust finds no meaning in design and would rather drink poison.  Enter Mephistofiles, the devil with the dance moves, and the lies and despair, played by Rene Pape.  He is willing to take Faust into his service and they flee back in time to Faust’s halcyon days, which in this version seems to be the time of the Great War.

It is fun until death enters rather shockingly and Mephistofiles reveals his dark side.  There is a duel.  Walpurgis Night takes place in the shadow of a nuclear explosion and the fellowship of unholy fallout.  Mephistofiles’ temptation of Marguerite takes place in the framework of a church with a choir barely restrained from breaking out into Gospel.  That could have been fun!  Initially I thought that Marina Poplavskaya had to strong a face to play Marguerite.  She came into her own in the stark scene that ends the opera.

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