The German legend of Faust has been re-imagined in myriad ways, but in the recent production at Houston Grand Opera, this devilish opera finds a beautifully realized interpretation. Quick backstory: Derived from Germanic legend, the story was popularized in England by Christopher Marlowe, who gave it a classic treatment in his play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.
Regardless of iteration, Dr. Faustus is seduced by earthly desires – including a woman – and gives over any hope of the afterlife to Méphistophélès. Charles Gounod’s Faust, which premiered in Paris in 1859, spins the story around the pursuit of eternal youth rather than wealth or power.
HGO’s production hits all the right notes from the beginning. The lush and luxurious sound from the orchestra and singers is something you can almost touch. Italian conductor Antonino Fogliani elicits every possible nuance from the notes sung by the choir and cast with his easy-going, almost languid style – one that allows the sound to flow organically and naturally.
The staging is one of the best in years. HGO always works to put together a solid production, and this one is is alternatingly alluring and alarming – not necessarily at the same time, but definitely amping up the drama. What one would expect as the traditional set is made dynamic through the liberal saturation of color and texture.
Joshua Hopkins gave a fiery and lofty performance as Valentin, and Mephistopheles comes to life in Italian singer Luca Pisaroni. Michael Fabiano as Faust presents a complex, nuanced Faust. One of my favorites (an Houston’s), Ana Maria Martinez gives a confident and shimmering performance, while Megan Mikailovna Samarin as Siebel played a strong supporting role.
Houston Grand Opera has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to producing new operas, but has really stepped up their game in staging older standards of the repertoire, giving them the treatment and respect they so richly deserve. This not only presents them as they can and should be seen, but introduces them to an audience that may have not had the chance previously. This Faust was definitely one worth seeing.