Wednesday June 20 2:54 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

"Faust" - Review by Jeffrey Leibham

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Sculptor, filmmaker and photographer John Frame, who is the Production Designer, seems to be the driving force behind this “Faust,” which is a new production as well as a co-production with Portland Opera. His indelible stylings are evident throughout and make this a most magical and tantalizing experience, unlike any other “Faust” that has been seen before.

The French conductor Emmanuel Villaume finds just the right balance in his handling of the contrasting moods and colors of the score as it relates to the libretto.

Set and Costume Designer Vita Tzykun, who worked very closely with Frame to understand his artistic motif, has done wonders with her scale and texture. David Adam Moore (the well- known American baritone who appeared in Lyric’s 2013 production of “Oklahoma”) proves just how multi-faceted he is with his design of the numerous video projections, many of which are 3 dimensional. He too worked tirelessly with Frame to insure that the stop-motion animation sequences and videos were incorporated seamlessly into the narrative and blend musically with the score. The skeletal figures of the soldiers returning from war, dancing across the cyclorama as shadow puppets in the stirring Soldiers’ Chorus, is seriously chilling. Lighting Designer Duane Schuler’s use of isolated pools of light rather than a wide wash guarantees that Frame’s precise artistic vision is beautifully illuminated.

Director Kevin Newbury has made some major changes to his “Faust.” In this version, Faust is depicted as an artist at work in his studio rather than a scientist/philosopher. Interestingly, this works very well. In Act One Faust is an old man in his workshop, surrounded by his creations and lamenting the fact that he is miserably unhappy, unfulfilled and ready to end his life by drinking a vial of poison. Miraculously one of his sculptures comes to life in the form of the devil, Mephistopheles. Soon Faust makes a deal granting him not wealth or power but his wish for eternal youth. However, Newbury has also chosen to present the character of Marguerite as being physically disabled. Hobbling around the stage on a crutch just seems awkward and there are inconsistencies.

The French tenor Benjamin Bernheim, making his American debut, is a splendid Faust. Beginning as a frail older gentleman Bernheim even alters his vocal tone to create the miserable elderly soul. When he sheds that exterior to reveal his younger self, the transformation is breathtaking. His Act Three aria, leaning against Marguerite’s house in her garden with vivid video projections of copious flowers blooming around him was the evening’s most poignant moment.

The Chicago-born soprano Ailyn Perez plays Marguerite (Ana Maria Martinez will take over the role on March 21). Initially Perez seemed to be tentative in her early scenes but she certainly reaches her prime with the “Jewel Song.”

Christian Van Horn, the American bass-baritone, is a wonderfully suave and urbane Mephistopheles. Donning a snappy orange-yellow and black plaid suit, Van Horn struts around the stage with rakish confidence, spewing witty bon mots in his rich and expressive voice. He turns mean and quite sinister, especially in his Act Four scene in a church, seated in a pew (almost uncomfortably too close) beside an overwhelmed and distraught Marguerite.

Edward Parks, making his Lyric debut, sings the role of Valentin, a loyal soldier and brother to Marguerite. The baritone, reprising the role that he has sung at Atlanta Opera, was dignified and striking, specifically in Act Four when he challenges Faust, the man who seduced his sister while he was away fighting in the war, to a duel.

Be careful of what you wish for. You never know until it’s too late, like Faust himself, just how high the cost may eventually turn out to be.

“Faust” runs through March 21st at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Best parking option: The Poetry Garage, 201 West Madison, $12 in advance at www.thepoetrygarage.com. Valet parking is also available - $30.

Running time is 3 hours, 30 minutes, with two 25-minute intermissions. Remaining performances are March 12th and 15th at 7:30 pm; March 18th and 21st at 2:00 pm. Tickets start at $49. FYI (312) 827-5600 or www.lyricopera.org/Cosi.