Photo Felipe Sanguinetti
Alvis Hermanis’ staging is splendid to watch, but a tad overloaded. The background projection of very big, very beautiful video images would have been sufficient to underline the stage director’s ideas, without adding crowds of dancers, humans in cages, props and plants… It is an interesting idea to transpose the Faust legend into our time and to compare the character of Faust to Stephen Hawking, but does it really work? In the story , the old scientist Faust is tired of life. Mephisto appears and promises him youth and joy of life. He takes Faust on a trip and shows him the lovely Marguerite. Faust wants her, seduces her and abandons her. Marguerite is taken to jail for having poisoned her mother and condemned to death. Faust gives up his soul to Mephisto in order to save her from hell. So Faust is supposed to be Stephen Hawking, and in a certain way the entire humankind, who, having made its planet impossible to live on, sets out to colonize Mars. Its Marguerite? Its condemnation ? Not to be found in this chaos of dances and videos. Maybe stage directors with huge ideas like this should write their own pieces, instead of trying to fit their ideas onto existent ones. The staging is beautiful to see in a way, quite musical, following the score even color-wise, but the overload of images, people, dancers, suggestions ends up tiring the eye and also the mind. One wonders how the singers can concentrate on the job at hand, in the middle of this beautiful chaos; especially since the characters don’t seem to have made the object of much psychological exploration. At least the singers are not called upon to do all kinds of strange things while singing. Musical splendor throughout: the Orchestra and Choir of the Paris Opera, conducted by Philippe Jordan, interpret Berlioz’ sublime score with finesse and deep understanding. They seem to cover Faust a bit in the beginning, until the balance is found. Knowing Jonas Kaufmann’s extraordinary abilities however, one wonders is this is not happening on purpose. For Kaufmann seems drab and withdrawn at first, before he uncovers, in the first call of “Margarita!”, the splendour of his voice. From then, he is just sublime in the arias, captivating as a fine actor in such a discreet and flat character as this Faust. Sophie Koch is Marguerite, touching and convincing with her warm and generous voice. The aria « D’amour l’ardente flamme… » is a moment of utter grace, she sings it with such abandon, and now the staging joins the music, colors, movements, forms – now it becomes one. Just for this moment, alas. Bryn Terfel is an ideal Méphisto with his joviality that hides the diabolical purpose. And the three voices blend together just marvellously in the ensembles. In the end we leave the concert hall elated by the music, and slightly tormented by unanswered questions. A pity, this could have been perfect.