Mephistopheles (Silas Elash) conducts a mesmerized chorus in Opera San Jose’s production of Gounod’s Faust. Image by Pat Kirk Photography
Better late than never, the Opera (not so-) Novice is here to tell you to make fancy shmancy plans to see FAUST this weekend! This is the final weekend, and you’re not going to want to miss this thoroughly entertaining show. My guest and I absolutely adored it, and I think it was my favorite of the entire season.
It really was one of our best opera dates ever. We always have a great time at Opera San Jose, but sometimes the perfection of what they do can dull the excitement and cause me to wonder how to write a review: “The music was perfect,” “The Baritone was perfect,” “ the scenery was perfect,” “the costumes were perfect.” You know what? Last night wasn’t perfect, for me. And you know what else? Still one of the best operas EVER.
But what’s not to like? Méphistophélès, dressed as a sort of pirate, steals the show. You also have a scary, supernatural child angel who scared me more than Méphistophélès did. There’s one song which is all about drinking “beer and wine” and “anything but water” — Gotta love it! There are religious symbolism and bargains with the devil, doomed love and terrifying horror, and always the perfection of the opera orchestra and singers (which I would never really complain about!).
These were all awesome things, but some were also a little out of the ordinary (even for my short experience with the opera, where I’ve learned opera is NEVER what you expect). I’ve rarely felt as uncomfortable about a character as I did the tiny little angel on stage, and kudos to her for pulling off that Stephen King-like creepiness along with the religious grandeur and horror, all at the same time. Unfortunately, I cannot figure out the name of this young actress, but she did a splendid job.
I was also taken off guard by watching Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste on stage for the first act and a half without singing a note (that I noticed). She finally gets her turns in the second and third acts, but having watched her in production after production over the years, this was strange for me. (You don’t watch George Clooney just walk through scenes in half a film before speaking a word).
But Opera Novice, are these really things to complain about? Of course not! There were just interesting changes from the norm which piqued my interest and kept me on my toes. But I did have one problem with the show which surprised me. By the end of the first act I was clutching my friend’s arm, exclaiming how much I absolutely loved the set design. The lighting, the artwork backdrops, the bank of colored spotlights on the left and right… somehow it all came together for a most exciting, tremendous setting for the show. But the curtain went up for the second Act and I was taken by surprise. An abnormally small painted back drop was all there was, along with the bank of lights on the side… and it confused me in a less exciting way. I kept thinking they must have spent their entire budget on the amazing backdrops for Idomeneo… but I see from my materials that Idomeneo had the same set designer. What gives, Opera SJ? I’m going to assume that I’m not understanding the message of the set designer this time, and don’t get me wrong: the end of Act II was beautiful… but was it up to the gloriousness of previous Opera SJ productions? I say No.
But then! I guess I was not the only one to wonder about the set designs, because Opera San Jose gave set designer Steven Kemp a chance to tell us poor novices about his reasons for each setting. I now understand what it was he was trying to bring to the production… I’m not entirely sure it succeeded. However, aside from Act II, I absolutely adored the settings of Act I and III. Simply gorgeous. Click the link to see some great shots of the amazing designs.
So, is this a good opera for a beginner? YES. Resounding Yes. It has an intensely moving and interesting storyline, amazing, charismatic characters and some really fun songs, along with a great deal of terror. And for those who already love Opera, Faust is one of the most often performed operas of all time, and Opera San Jose, as always, does it perfectly.
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Can’t make it to see Faust?
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On the menu for next season is:
THE PEARL FISHERS
SUOR ANGELICA & GIANNA SCHICCHI