Faust Charles Gounod at the Bastille Opera

Dr. Faust, an old man frustrated with delusion, thinks of ending it once and for all, when Mephistopheles, the devil, appears to him with his flesh and blood: he makes Faust sign a pact that guarantees him a new youth in exchange for his soul. Seduced by the image of Margaret, which Satan had made to persuade him, Faust sets out to conquer the beauty. Méphistophélès accompanies him on his journey to anticipate his slightest desires. Faust seduces her and immediately abandons her, and Margaret kills the child she bore. Imprisoned for her crime, she will take her life to save her soul, despite Satan’s contradictory efforts to make her – like Faust – his own creature. Given only two evenings and behind closed doors in 2021 due to the pandemic, this new production by Tobias Kratzer succeeds the production of Jorge Lavelli (1975) that was played for nearly three decades at the Opéra Garnier and then at the Opéra Bastille. The German director’s creation takes us to a magical vision of Junod’s work as the legend of eternal adolescence oscillates for three hours, between dream and reality, all with the help of numerous sets and an amazing video device, packed with breathtaking special effects. During the five acts, the viewer witnesses the hero’s reckless rush in search of his eternal youth. We are seeing a series of paintings, each one more surprising than the next. We are pleased that Tobias Kratzer has taken some very welcome liberties. And surprises everywhere. We begin with the first drawing when the curtain rises on the opulent interior of a Parisian apartment. The Break of Dawn reveals Faust, an old man who is visibly disappointed by his night with a young prostitute. In the grip of old age pain, tonight he sees once again that his best years are behind him. Only the echo of the girls’ voices in the distance prevented him from committing suicide. It is then that a mysterious stranger appears in his apartment, accompanied by six demons who are regularly found during the show. Wearing long black hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and a black cape on the shoulders, Tobias Kratzer’s Mephistopheles is halfway between Batman and Satan. The scenes in which Mephistopheles and Faustus fly through the air are very comical. Another freedom in the theater, Valentine, Margaret’s brother and his friends initially appear not as soldiers but as suburban boys playing basketball. Living in public housing, Margaret will meet Faust on the dance floor in a nightclub as she wiggles around with her mobile phone in hand. Another surprising effect, spell casting isn’t permanent. Faust recovers his old features, particularly at the end of the garden work as he prepares to go to Margaret’s studio to make love with her. Then Satan takes his place and the young woman finds herself pregnant… with Satan. We appreciate this little nod to Roman Polanski’s Baby Rosemary. Surprised again, Margaret’s room was transferred to the gynecological clinic. Margaret discovers in horror what the ultrasound reveals… but we won’t say more than that. Hearing the wonderful song “He does not return,” Siebel replied, “Pour your sorrows into my soul!”. The horrifying church scene with the devil is transferred to a metro train in Paris. Here is a small preview of this rhythmic gradient that goes from surprises to twists and turns. The performance of the soloists is as impressive as it is cheerful. In the title role, we find the French-Swiss tenor Benjamin Bernheim, already in construction in 2019, who excels throughout the evening. Strength and refinement, the singer easily fills the volume of a pastel opera and reveals a treasure trove of delicacy when it comes to paying homage to Junod’s genius, particularly in the famous “Salut, Remains Chaste and Pure” (where the colossal against the C is more so emitted without difficulty). He depicts a stunned Faust, often overshadowed by events, completely submissive. Qualities we also find in Christian van Horn as Mephistopheles, who inhabits the sound space with the timbre of a beautiful bass. His charisma and acting make his character very compelling, full of imagination and humor. Angel Blue made a successful debut in the Opéra National de Paris as Marguerite. The Californian soprano offers a beautiful interpretation of the songs “King of Thule” and “L’air des bijoux” (“Oh! I laugh to see myself so beautiful in this mirror!”) with a lot of restraint and emotions. Florian Sempy, who was also present in the production in 2019, plays the highly invested Valentine, who protects his sister and especially moves through the air “before leaving these places.” The scene in which Faust pushes a blade across his chest is particularly poignant. We also appreciate the mezzo-soprano interpretation of Emily D’Angelo as Siebel, a young boy in love with Marguerite. We salute the work of the choirs of the National Opera in Paris, in particular “The Immortal Glory of Dance” without forgetting Jean-Yves Schelot’s outstanding performance as a Mime actor, as the old Faust. One of the real added values ​​of this beautiful show is the orchestral direction entrusted to Thomas Hengelbrock. Very expressive, the German conductor highlights the exceptional sound of the Orchestra de l’Opera de Paris and reveals all the color palette of the score. If we add to this the majestic music of Charles Gounod, and the exquisite costumes and outfits by Rainer Selmayr, these six new performances truly resonate with the atmosphere of triumph.

Until July 13, 2022

Faust’s Opera in Five Acts (1859) – Music: Charles Junod (1818-1893) – The libretto: Jules Barbier, Michel Carré – Music Direction: Thomas Hengelbrück – Director: Tobias Kratzer – Sets, Outfits: Rainer Sellmaier – Spotlight: Michael Power – Video: Manuel Brown – Choir Director: Ching-Lien Wu – Orchestra and Chorus of the Paris National Opera – Faust: Benjamin Bernheim Mephistopheles: Christian Van Horn – Valentine’s Day: Florian Sempy – Wagner: Guilhem-worm Daisy: Blue Angel – Sibel: Emily D’Angelo Mrs. Marth: Sylvie Brunette-Gruposo

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