Tulsa made deals with the devil this weekend, complete with drama, explosive powder and smoke. The Tulsa PAC hosted “Faust” for a night of opera October 20.
Gounod, a very religious man, composed the opera in the mid-19th century. This was the period of Grand Opera in France and my first concern about the production was if the focus on spectacle typical of the time period would be too corny or over the top. It simply was not. Faust, the main character, and the devil sang through the opening song with all the dramatic gestures and dialogue of opera but with believable acting. Faust complained he wanted to relive his life but with vigor and summoned the devil for help. A small explosive flash burned a temporary hole in my retinas and introduced the devil with some pretty entertaining theatrics. The smoke curling around the stage and the dark set added a perfect touch.
The opera had an interesting premise: a man makes a deal with the devil to be young again, and then falls in love with an innocent girl: Marguerite, who is unaware her lover is cursed. The relationship starts to ruin her life, much to the angst of her overprotective, war hero brother: Valentin. The story moved smoothly, although it became difficult at times to read the English subtitles above the stage to make sense of the French singing while still watching the actors.
“Faust” was my first opera, and I had never heard vocals so beautiful before. Austrian Martin Piskorski as Faust played the elderly version of his character just as well as the young version, with a booming tenor voice to accompany him. Yunpeng Wend as Valentine’s baritone was my personal favorite of the opera singers. Alyssa Martin played the prepubescent Siebel whose boyish charm served as the main comic relief in the dark opera. Amanda Woodbury played a compelling Marguerite. Önay Köse played Méphistofélés (Satan) with the charm of a gentleman and the theatrics of a professional wrestling heel. Native Frenchman Emmanuel Plassoon conducted the Tulsa Opera Orchestra from the pit. Musically, I have no critiques.
The recurring motif of the opera seemed to be consequences. Each suspense filled moment when the audience pondered if the character would make a certain choice kept the opera interesting as each choice had large impacts on the plot. As Faust spirals into judgement, and Marguerite tries to keep from going down with him, the devil keeps both from realizing the truth by pretending to help them. This culminates when Marguerite sings a duet with the devil in the final act. As she tries to escape damnation, Satan offers a solution that would doom her.
Opera may not be for everyone, especially those not into period pieces or subtitles, but anyone can appreciate the stunning vocals and theatrics. Some say opera is dead, or at least in its twilight, but many of those who propagate this lie have probably never been. Opera performances are a must-see in Tulsa.