Opera Naples' 'Faust' gives devil -- and every facet of great opera -- its due

IF YOU GO

What: Opera Naples production of Charles Gounod's "Faust"

When: 3 p.m. today, Sunday, Feb. 26

Where: Performing arts hall of Gulf Coast High School, 7878 Shark Way, Naples off Immokalee Road one-half mile east of Logan Boulevard)

Admission: $25 to $95

Tickets: box office or call 239-963-9050

We all knew Faust was going to Hell at the end of this opera. But the ride was heavenly.

Opera Naples stoked Charles Gounod's opera with everything it had Friday to produce engaging drama, gorgeous music and light-fueled settings that put the audience in every scene sans finger-tapping delay over backdrops.

Its svelte three-hour adaptation served the story without losing crucial elements and music, all of it shepherded lithely along by two of the most buff harpies Hell has ever sent up.

One could credit the success of this "Faust" to Opera Naples Artistic Director Steffanie Pearce's dream team. That starts with Metropolitan Opera stalwart Paul Nadler conducting, pulling the 38-piece orchestra together as tightly as primer on pine and making every solo virtuoso. It's an amazing feat, given the number of characters and amount of music, with strong orchestral solos, for the opera's brief block of rehearsal time. The musical value of this production explains why the man is in demand all over the planet.

Nadler's equal here is Jeffrey Marc Buchman, a Luciano Pavarotti voice competition winner who has applied his operatic experience to stage and set direction. Even his details say volumes: Witness the searing scene of bedraggled soldiers limping home from battle, still singing its praises "Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux" and handing a child their sword to raise for the next generation.

His liberal use of the two dancers to interpret temptation and emotion -- not to mention moving a set or two -- is, well, devilishly clever. Buchman is working with Donald E. Thomas, a colleague from the recent "Rigoletto" production of Florida Grand Opera, who delivers a critical component of the mood and setting with surgical skill.

Rosa Mercedes, choreographer to the satanically spellbinding Ashley Buckley and Milena Hale, turns them into fiendishly lovely harpies. With mohawks of towering black hair and and black-detailed cream body suits, they sell Hell in a way red never could.

But apart from the engineers of the production, its singers, costumers and makeup artists -- many of them local amateurs -- have set a new standard for the company.

There's not a bad voice in this cast, to begin with. If one or two have a bit more volume than others, there's still no craning necessary.

Kearns continues to prove he can sing anything lyrically -- and in French, too. As the younger Faust he is a vocal and visual maiden magnet. Further, although there are still some concert-arm tendencies, coaching from stage director Jeffrey Marc Buchman has considerably upped his dramatic ante.

Tetriani is a complete Marguerite, with an amazing spectrum of dramatic moods, from her irrepressible take on the "Jewel" aria in the second act to her haunting struggle with the forces of Satan in Act III. Her voice is strong and melodic and she sings this, her premiere in the role, with skillful turns of sweetness and pain.

And let's give the devil his due. Gary Simpson creates a Mephistopheles whose personality unfolds as the opera does, beginning in the back-slapping tenor of a fraternity brother whose suggestions are likely to leave you the one in the dean's office -- and ending with his chilling laughter at Faust's despair.

Scenes we hope will be immortalized on videotape:

-- Precise choral/supernumerary work in the waltz scene and Golden calf sequence, "Le veau d'or," in which the crowd must dance, sing its heart out, sway crazily and drop to the ground during the devil's mesmerizing ballad.

-- Mezzo-soprano Melissa Vitrella's blonde scene as Marguerite's self-absorbed neighbor, Marthe — crass enough to throw herself at Mephistopheles after learning of her own husband's death and comic enough to nearly steal the scene. (Vitrella, a double threat, is also costume designer.)

-- The seduction of Marguerite (Lina Tetriani) by Faust (Anthony Kearns) as the two fall into a bed that spins slowly under the perfect lighting for what we know will happen next.

If we could have we'd have seen this "Faust" twice.

There is a long list of people whose work has forged it, from Robin Shuford Franks, its diligent chorus master, down to the dressers and seamstress who take Faust from a hoary 80 years to his early 20s in less than a minute.

Read the program; see the opera on Sunday. And expect a company well worth watching at the Phil this year.

© 2012 gonaples.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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