MUSIC | “Faust” at the Minnesota Opera: Devilishly long

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The Minnesota Opera’s all-new production of Faust opened Friday at the Ordway Center in St. Paul. Based on Goethe’s classic novel, Charles Gounod’s opera tells the well-known story of Dr. Faust, who makes a deal with the devil to get back his former, younger self and woo the young and beautiful Marguerite. While the story is easy to follow and the score is pleasant to listen to, at three-plus hours the opera is at times overbearing. Still, the cast of this production, particularly a group of dancers, gracefully bring some inspiration to the piece.

faust, an opera written by charles-françois gounod with libretto by jules barbier and michel carré. presented by the minnesota opera through february 1 at the ordway center for the performing arts, 345 washington st. n., st. paul. for tickets ($20-$150) and information, see mnopera.org.

The opera, which premiered in 1859, follows the consequences of Faust’s deal with the villain Méphistopélès. Transformed into his younger self, Faust seeks out the admiration of Marguerite. In the process, we’re also introduced to Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, who charges his friend Siebel to look after his sister when he leaves for war. Unfortunately for Siebel, his love for Marguerite goes unrequited when Marguerite succumbs to Faust’s passion. Ultimately, having Faust’s child is too much for Marguerite and she is tormented with thoughts of damnation and is eventually imprisoned for killing her child. In the final act, Faust regrets his actions toward Marguerite, but his desire to rescue his love is too late. While all of that adds up to intense drama, it seems to take forever to resolve.

Thankfully the opera has a very distinctive villain in Mephistopheles, played by Kyle Ketelsen. He devilishly outshines Faust (Paul Groves) and Marguerite (Judith Howarth). Ketelsten is slimy, crafty, and draws the audience’s attention whenever he is on stage. At one point a staircase moves smoothly about the stage, carrying Mephistopheles and making it appear as if everything on stage is under his control.

One of the highlights of this production is the inclusion of choreographer Doug Varone’s dancers. As Mephistopheles’s henchmen, a quartet of male dancers deliciously bring drama and humor to the piece. Later, four women they’ve lured to the underworld join them and the ensuing dance brings life back to the dragging story.

Faust is an entertaining night of opera, even if it’s a bit too long. However, it was certainly good to see Ordway’s main hall full of patrons, and Faust is sure to bring in the crowds for its remaining shows.

Rebecca Mitchell (mitcreb@yahoo.com) is a graduate of the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. She lives in Uptown Minneapolis and is currently working in public relations.

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