say your piece
ISSUE NO.154 23 OCT. 2003
A Deal with the Devil at Capitol Theater
By Christian Gentry

s the Faust Festival continues to share its enlightenment of Faust with the hoity-toity of Salt Lake City, Utah Opera, a division of the company now called Utah Symphony & Opera (USO, without Bob Hope) continues to fall short of hiring the best vocalists for demanding roles. Although the strongest voice and presence was Krisopher Irmiter, who played Mephistopheles, the supporting cast fell short of expectations.

Sure, the staging, lightning and set were par for the course—and at times maybe better. Yet opera is about music. It’s about having great voices that can be heard powerfully throughout the whole concert hall.

This has been the dilemma for years with the Utah Opera. Whether due to budgeting concerns or just public interest, the opera seems to guarantee a season of great staging while hiring “regional opera” quality performers. Since the merger, one would think that things might change. But the Utah Symphony still hires the best guest performers and conductors and gives the best performances. Because in reality, opera isn’t about a simple story, it is about the music. “Faust,” although well-staged and dramatic, fell short of the musical demands, which, of course, should be the primary concern.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s portrayal of Faust has been the inspiration for countless works of art in all media. With music, there have been several adaptations of the timeless tale. It appears as early as 1813 with Ludwig Spohr’s opera “Faust.” Later came an overture by Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz’s “La Damnation de Faust” (which is neither and opera or an oratorio—it’s just Berlioz), Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” (poorly orchestrated but still substantial) and a work by Schumann for orchestra, soloists and a chorus. Subsequent treatments of Goethe’s work include Arrigo Boito’s “Mefistofele” and Busoni’s “Doktor Faustus.”

The version performed by the Utah Opera was that of Charles-François Gounod, first performed in 1859. Taken from the storyline written by Goethe himself, this Faust stands as the most performed and most controversial of the Faust works. I guess saying that Goethe is the creator of the original Faust isn’t entirely correct. Goethe actually got his idea of Faust from an Elizabethan play, “The Tragical Historie of Doctor Faustus” attributed to Christopher Marlow (although the real authors of Elizabethan plays are always under speculation).

Despite the lack of vocal prowess, to see the musical portrayal of the fates who await those who deal their souls to the devil was a significant spectacle. And to see the rendering of an age-old story on the modern stage displays the longevity of such thematic material.

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