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Damnation.

By Rob Kezelis
February 27, 2010

Nope, not what you think. As much as I am tempted to excoriate the Health Care Reform Meat & Greet, the ultimate result of that waste of time is obvious. We will have health care reform, there will be reconciliation, and some sort of public option will come to pass.

No, instead, I write of Faust, and how Chicago’s Lyric Opera treated his Damnation.

Considering that Berlioz (1803–69) had a distinct style, you would never expect his music to mix well with contemporary approaches to performance art. I mean, really. Strippers doing pole dances, Military enforcing martial law with AK 47s, sexy hot dances between various couples,  the poisoning of an elderly mom – combined with a constant light show, both video based and using 10 or so stage wide hanging light strips that move, change color, and would probably excite a 1960’s hippie, if only he could find some clean acid to drop.

Yet, all of these elements, combined with an excellent score from Berlioz, work. It really shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, when operas were produced in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, they were spectacles, hugely popular events that pressed against (and sometimes exceeded) the contemporary societal limits. More than  a few operas were banned as too risque, too politically uncomfortable. In many ways, the opera of the past was the Vagina Monologue of today.

And what a spectacle it was. Every piece, every light show, and every set design and voice merged into something wonderful. This is precisely how operas should be done, in a way that amuses, confuses, excites, saddens, and enriches the spectator.

Conductor Sir Andrew Davis used the superb Lyric orchestra perfectly. The sound they created together could really not be done any better. The stage direction (Stephen Langridge’s  Lyric debut) created mood after mood,  exciting the audience, without ever becoming a distraction. The voices? Paul Groves’ Faust looked like it was tailored like a thousand dollar suit. Susan Graham (Marguerite) has the voice of an angel, both powerful enough for any duet, and delicate and emotional enough to sway the coldest of hearts.  To say that Christian van Horn (Brander) is a character would be an understatement. Even an exaggerated move, with a sly glance at the audience suited his role wonderfully.

And then there was Mephistopheles. John Relyea’ Lyric debut created the perfect illusion. On one hand, the consummate used car salesman, purple suit and all, on the other, John created the perfect devil. Think of Dick Cheney with a sense of humor, and you get a glimpse of the complex, fascinating and deep character that Relyea concocted onstage.

All four principles had two things in common: great acting ability, combined with voices that shone and worked the Berlioz score to perfection.

Damnation – a great story, and an even better Lyric debut. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

2 Responses to Damnation.

  1. Sandune

    February 27, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Delicious review Rob. I am a true opera buff and enjoyed your words. Your opera company is world famous. I am more familiar with Gounod’s opera and have never seen the Berlioz.

    • Rob Kezelis

      February 27, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      the first for me, too.

      The voices were great. The orchestra, great. The staging, great. The music, great.

      I guess it was ok.