Butt of many opera jokes and No. 1 on many fans’ lists of works the world can survive without, cheesy old “Faust” came to wondrous and amazing life to open the Music Center Opera’s ninth season. It wasn’t the singing, which in some cases was only slightly above average; it wasn’t Lawrence Foster’s conducting, about which the same can be said. Aided by a splendid design crew, director Frank Corsaro was the force most responsible for the triumph.
He accomplished this without transporting the action to the far side of Mars or 21st-century Buffalo, as directors are wont to do these days with the repertory chestnuts.
Instead, Corsaro filled designer Franco Colavecchio’s spacious stage with action, nicely deployed crowds and dazzling solo turns, beautifully highlighted F. Mitchell Dana’s enlightened use of Vari-Lite technology. It almost seemed as if Gounod’s sentiment-drenched shocker was merely a side issue to a rich and handsome medieval pageant running simultaneously.
Corsaro has sometimes been faulted for his seeming need of a constant parade of people-props; his cluttered “Cenerentola” of several years back at the Music Center is a case in point. This time, however, his devices were exactly what the opera needed; you could forget you were enduring “Faust” and concentrate on a great show.
Among the cast members, basso Barseg Tumanyan’s Mephistopheles went splendidly with Corsaro’s action plan: jaunty, resonant and insinuating. Mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman and baritone Rodney Gilfry were the excellent Siebel and Valentine.
Neither the Faust, Finnish tenor Jorma Silvasti in his company debut, nor the Marguerite, Veronica Villaroel, had the creamy voices to cope with the drooling passion of Gounod’s love duets, but this may be to their credit.
The opera was given with the customary cuts, best of all the dreary “Witches’ Sabbath” ballet.