FAUST by Charles Gounod, directed by Nichalas Muni (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To February 24. $20-$275. 416-363-8231. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Faust is the classic deal-with-the-devil story: elderly scientist trades his soul for the chance to be young again, seduces an attractive innocent and is finally dragged to hell for his carnal ways.
But don't expect director/designer Nicholas Muni to offer the traditional Victorian greeting-card version, in which a sugary production coats the already sweet melodies. Here, the pleasures are dark, the tenderness tainted. Too bad the sometimes striking, sometimes fussy, ideas don't become a cohesive whole.
He sets the piece in the 19th century, with the devil Méphistophélès a Parisian fashion plate. The soldiers - here dejected rather than heroic, despite their rousing chorus - might be returning from a battle in the Franco-Prussian War. Faust and his shadow-figure Méphistophélès become more alike as the opera progresses.
Egil Silins needs a darker, richer voice and more stage presence to give Méphistophélès the necessary seductiveness and menace, while Ana Ibarra, despite an often attractive soprano voice, lacks the passion that should emerge from Marguerite's innocence. David Pomeroy's lyrical Faust grows in strength, but there's a coolness to his work, too, that can be traced back to the director's concept.
Best are Brett Polegato as Marguerite's brother Valentin, who fills the house vocally and theatrically, and Lauren Segal's bright-voiced Siébel, with Susan Gorton contributing a comic cameo as the lusty Marthe.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin's conducting catches the piece's lyricism but could have a sharper dramatic edge. This Faust is too faint.