By Charles Gounod
Presented by San Francisco Opera
At the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA
Conducted by Maurizio Benini
Directed by Jose Maria Condemi

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Two distinguished graduates of Merola Opera, San Francisco Opera's renowned training program for young professional singers, headline the cast of SFO's production of Charles Gounod's "Faust." Soprano Patricia Racette portrays Marguerite, while John Relyea is Méphistophélès, the devil. The title character, who pledges his soul to the devil in exchange for renewed youth, is played by tenor Stefano Secco.

Standing more than 6 feet tall, Relyea is an imposing Méphistophélès, relishing his devilish ways. Racette is affecting as Marguerite, suitably demure at first, then succumbing to young Faust's charms, only to be abandoned -- pregnant and increasingly insane. Secco is pleasant enough as Faust and sings well, but there isn't much chemistry between him and Racette.

Among the supporting players, baritone Brian Mulligan stands out as Valentin, Marguerite's protective soldier brother. The other supporting roles are all sung by Merola graduates. As always, mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook lends strong support as Marthe, one of only two people who stand by Marguerite in her disgrace. The other is played by mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as Siebel, the youth who's infatuated with her. Baritone Austin Kness, a current Adler Fellow, is Wagner.

Maurizio Benini conducts the fine SFO Orchestra, while Ian Robertson's SFO Chorus acquits itself well as soldiers and townspeople. Jose Maria Condemi directs. The production is designed by Robert Perdziola with lighting by Duane Shuler.

Sung in French with English supertitiles, "Faust" is competently performed and well sung, but it's also somewhat flat, lacking much energy except for Relyea.

For more information, see the San Francisco Opera home page.

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14 Jun 2010