Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Damnation of Faust from the Paris Opera

 Bryn, Dominique, Sophie, Jonas

Conductor Philippe Jordan
Director Alvis Hermanis

Marguerite: Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano)
Faust: Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Méphistophélès: Bryn Terfel  (baritone)
Stephen Hawking (mute): Dominique Mercy

The basic premise of the Eurotrash movement seems to be that any music and set of words can be fitted to any set of pictures and movements.  Any actual relationship is unnecessary.  Faust is supposed to be a scholar, so we will make him a scientist working on the space program.  Why not?  This is at least a tenuous relationship.  This staging of La Damnation de Faust from the Paris Opera is more a comedy than a serious drama.  No one cares about souls any more.

Of the above characters the one who spends the most time on stage is Stephen Hawking.  For most of the opera he sits in his chair.  At the beginning he speaks in his mechanical voice.  He is immediately recognizable without use of a program.

Act I

The intention to establish a colony on Mars in 2025 is announced.  The colonists are announced.  In any opera there are people who look one of two different ways:  they are uniformly young and thin or they are representative of all mankind.  The former group is, of course, the ballet, and the latter is the chorus.  People identified as going to Mars are all from the ballet.  They remove parts of their dress and appear in various stages of dress and undress until the last scene.

Jonas Kaufmann as Faust appears, except for the addition of horn rimmed glasses, as himself throughout.  He doesn't suddenly become young, as is traditional with Faust.

Act II

Faust, Hawking and Méphistophélès appear.  Potential colonists are tested like lab rats.  Méphistophélès chloroforms Faust who falls on the floor and dreams of Marguerite.  We see films of the Mars rover, and a copy appears on stage.  An orientation confusion device is brought on stage and Faust refuses to go into it.  So they choose Hawking instead who while still in his chair, rotates in all directions for a while.

Then Hawking is back in his chair, nude (body stockings?) women dancers appear, Jonas and Sophie interact.


Marguerite sings.  Almost nude ballet couples become intimate.  Perhaps on Mars they will have to pair up.  Then duet with Faust and Marguerite.  Then a trio with Bryn.  The male dancers have abandoned the females who now look injured.

Act IV

This is the best part of the staging.  Marguerite is Hawking's nurse.  She sings the most famous aria so far.  There was much discussion in reviews of snails mating, but for us this is not seen and we have closeups of Sophie instead.  She takes off her lab coat and strokes Hawking's cheeks.  So you see the love she sings about is for Hawking.  She lays her cheek against his.  The Mars rover goes by.  And finally she kisses him.

Jonas comes out and sings "Nature immense" with an erupting volcano behind.  Very nice.

Bryn comes out with 3D goggles and tempts Faust into putting them on.  The colonists, including Marguerite, put on their space uniforms and we see a rocket blasting off.  Perhaps it's time to depart.

Faust finds Marguerite's dress in the pile of clothes and searches for her among the colonists.

Ending:  We are supposedly sending Marguerite off to heaven, but instead Hawking gets out of his chair and does an extended ballet.  Sort of.  Faust gets in the abandoned chair and drives it off the stage.

So is this The Salvation of Stephen Hawking instead of The Damnation of Faust?  The music was lovely.  We heard no booing.

No comments: