Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Charles Gounod, Faust – Aalto-Theater Essen

Performance 30th January

Again the Aalto-Theater staged a less common played opera. And the first night audience awarded this co-production with the Deutsche Oper Berlin of Charles Gounod’s Faust with massive applause. With good reason welcomed the audience Sébastien Rouland for his musical direction after the intermission with a big applause. He made the Essener Philharmoniker sound very softly and the dynamical arrangement between the orchestra and the singers functioned just perfectly.
But not just the musical performance worked nicely in its arrangement. In addition to it the staging by Philipp Stölz and co-director Mara Kurotschka acted also very harmonically. It was noticeable that every little symbole and gesture were well elaborated. Bassicaly the stage setting (Heike Vollmer) has not changed much through the whole opera. A big pillar in the middle of the stage functioned as a constant and not moving element in this dynamic story. All entrances (apart from one in the third act) were made from behind this pillar. Faust (Abdellah Lasri) appeared at the beginning as an old man, sitting in an electric wheelchair bound to ventilators. After Mephistophélès (Alexander Vinogadov) have made Faust into a young man, he was wearing the same glittery pink suit as the devil Mephistophélès. Both singers convinced with a great and strong voice as almost the whole cast. Abdellah Lasri was able to show a wide range of his tenor voice. When Faust was going to amuse himself with Mephistophélès, he showed the brightness in his voice. But with a touching feeling admitted he his love to Marguerite (Jessica Muirhead) and appealingly did he later try to get her out of the dungeon. This was implied by a smal fence, wall and door positioned semicircularly along the pillar. Jessica Muirhead embodied the two sites of Marguerite convincingly. The naive Marguerite of the first half was light footed and cheerful. Her space filling soprano voice gave the high notes great power and were filling the auditorium with easiness. The always merry Siébel (Karin Strobos) was dressed (costumes: Ursula Kudrna) into a rabbit costume due to the funfair in the first act. As a mezzo-soprano did she not have any problems with her high notes at all. They even sounded very clear and light. Important part of the funfair in this opera is the choir who represents the not nearer defined crowd. The choir was dressed pastell-coloured and reminded with their porcelain looking masks of dolls. Unfortunatly the choir (rehearsal: Patrick Jaskolka) had partly light rhythm problems but surely it will get better in the next performances. Martijn Cornet as Marguerite’s brother Valantin who got killed brutally on Mephistophélès’ instruction, portraied a strong, emotional and bellligerent young man. Until the last breathe did he demonstrate his specific rounded voice. The secret star of the evening was Alexander Vinogadov as Mephistophélès. The diabolical in his play came through his lightness and carelessness into effect. Vinogadov’s full, soft and flexible basso voice will surely profit him further on lucrative roles. In the third act did he show his dark side when he made fun of Marguerite. The Aalto-Theater trys to involve the whole theater into their play. So this time Mephistophélès had his entrance in the stalls and sang across the whole aditorium in direction to the stage. Very straight and with great volume in his voice did Vinogadov make the audience feeling frightened. The snowy scenery from the second half on, confirmed the glumnes atmosphere.
I really liked the fact that you could always draw a connection to what was happening on stage, thanks to the well elaborated production. When Marguerite get dressed in her new dress which she got from Mephistophélès, this was as magical as Cinderella’s story. Or the dungeon might have let think some people of the Berlin Wall. And the old caravan, Marguerite was living in, created an uncertain and dubios atmosphere.
For this great entertainment for ears and eyes I give nine out of ten stars.
 Reviewed by Christine Arnold

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