Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Praise of Folly

Despite the general critical drubbing, there is something to be said for the production side of the new Met Faust (though not this much).

Upon its announcement last year, my first reaction was "Didn't they just have one? Some striking scenes, too, one with Valentin in red samurai armor." That, however, turns out to have been something quite different, and not just Gounod v. Busoni.

Peter Mussbach, who did that memorable Salzburg/Met Doktor Faust, is a late-late modernist. Eccentric elements of his productions are part of some unified underlying theory of the piece, obscure as that may (or may not) be. Andrei Serban, on the other hand, is a postmodernist with an academic trashy sensibility. The higgledy-piggledy mess of his Faust (like that of his loathesome Benvenuto Cellini) is entirely intentional, and more or less there for its own sake.

It works, however, for one scene: the Golden Calf. Unsurprisingly, it's Goethe's cheerfully nihilistic Mephistopheles for whom Serban is most successful, and Gounod's conflation of this character with the more overtly sinister "Böser Geist" of the Cathedral scene that brings the production to grief.

But Faust -- in any version -- is more than just its devil; there are also Faust and Gretchen to consider. It was for them, I would guess, that the more realist-traditional designer Santo Loquasto was engaged, and he contributes one really excellent production element: the tree in Marguerite's garden. It's a striking and effective metaphor for her naive charm, and the best visual of the evening. The cute ball-tossing with her young friends, though a bit too soft-focus, wasn't a bad complement.

For the rest, silence may be best. I assume Joe Volpe's much-undervalued editor's pen has only begun its work here, and what shows tonight may already be different.


  1. Maybe Tom Holt should give it a whirl. Add whole new dimensions.

  2. Having just seen a few traditional Met productions (Otto Schenk Walkuere, who needs tranquilizers to get to sleep) I'm happier with a misfire that takes some kind of shot at interestingness than yet another ploddingly literal pageant.
    G V-G


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.