Faust in Malmö – or “Worse than Life”
We attended Gounod’s Faust at the Malmö Opera last Friday, the 18th of March 2005.
The set design seemed promising at the beginning, with its remarkable construction as a movie theatre and the chorus sitting like an audience with their backs turned against us. The movie (“Faust”) had just ended, and the credits (the names of all the singers) rolled over the screen. Everyone left and Faust was left sitting by himself in the seats. Marguerite and Faust’s young alter ego entered and starting cleaning up in the theatre.
The movie theatre served as the setting for the entire opera, and behind the screen was another compartment. Out of this, Mephistopheles emerged and got the story started.
As you can probably tell, the story had been updated, and unfortunately it didn’t work very well. The staging had the same kind of ambitions as Peter Konwitschny’s Elektra at the Royal Danish Opera, that is: to cast a merciless light upon modern society. But whereas Konwitschny succeeded through eminent directing and character development, this staging relied upon outer scenarios in which the characters drowned. The main characters were unable to compete with the mob of the chorus, whether they were guests at a discotheque or partying soldiers. Too much was going on on stage that didn’t have any relevance for the story.
The worst parts were when…
– Marguerite sang the Jewel Aria wearing plastic jewellery with electric, flashing lights. Just to make sure we didn’t miss the point where she chose the hollow trinkets in stead of the real flowers
– Siebel was portrayed as a butch lesbian woman wearing an unattractive baseball cap perkily over one ear, that gave her an alarming resemblance to that annoying guy Bubber in the bathtub from that TV-show we hated when we were children.
– Members of the chorus had been squeezed into too small outfits and had to dance modern-style (you know, the one where you shift your weight awkwardly from one foot to another) in an 80s disco. Accompanied by Gounod’s ballet music at that.
– Marguerite said her prayer to a Passion of the Christ-poster with the TV preacher on in the background. (Get it? Commercialism is the new religion!)
– The soldiers’ celebration included blow-up sex dolls, foam extinquishers (we don’t know…), drugs, and Swedish flags (the hooligan way).
– Hell was depicted as the Abu Grahib prison with its tortured victims smeared with faeces, blindfolded and on a leash while the soldiers took photographs of them and porn movies appeared on the screen in the background. (Get it? Hell is not a nice place! And should anyone still have any doubts about this, the inferno-red bordello lighting ought to set them straight.)
There is of course nothing wrong with updating operas, but the problem with this staging was that it lacked intuition and motivation completely in relation to Gounod’s original work. The message was stuffed down our throats by means of cheap, superficial solutions to the degree that you felt that the director did not trust his audience’s intelligence.
And then everything was just really ugly. The element of Beauty was completely absent and then what does Faust have to lose through his deal with Satan? The difference between life on earth and Hell was negligible.
The musical part of the performance was alright.
Emma Lyrén was particulary moving with a beautiful, warm voice. She played her small part in a way that made you want to see much more of her. Ann Kristin Jones sang with a glittering lucidity, so that we at least musically did not miss a tenor.
Joseph Wolverton was ok, not toe-curling, but a bit on the small side, volume-wise. He had that in common with Maria Fontosh as Marguerite.
Bengt Krantz as Mephistopheles was disappointing with an old, trembling voice. And as an actor he completely lacked the diabolic magnetism that makes Mephistopheles interesting.
One of us was suffering from a case of heart-ache, but concluded, after attending the performance, that Faust in Malmö was worse than Life. We’ll have to admit, however, that we have gotten ourselves an inexhaustible source of mockery, as well as a sharp contrast to all the great things that are happening on the Copenhagen stage these days.
/anna and marie
Faust shakes hands with his young alter ego and seals his fatal deal with the Devil. Anna and Marie seal their deal with Morpheus and drift peacefully into sleep….
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