Friday, February 16, 2018

Party with the devil without selling your soul; win tickets to "Faust"

The Lyric's new Faust uses a dramatic set design by renowned sculptor John Frame (Photo courtesy of Cory Weaver)

     Given our national tendency to embrace the incredible, and entertain the possibility of almost any conceivable scenario, no matter how fantastic, it is perhaps surprising there is not widespread speculation that Donald Trump has sold his soul to the devil. That would solve the mystery of how a third-rate Manhattan con artist, laughingstock and poster boy for glittery 1980s venality could become, in short order, a best-selling author, television star and president of the United States.
     Plus, it would explain his notable lack of a soul.
     Perhaps the entire idea of signing away your immortal spirit to Satan has lost popular culture currency, a regrettable development I am happy to try to correct, in my own modest way, on Tuesday, March 6, by bringing 100 readers to the Civic Opera House see one of my favorite operas, “Faust,” by Charles Gounod, performed by Lyric Opera of Chicago.
     The story, in case you are unfamiliar, is a legendary tale told most famously by Goethe.
     Goethe’s original version begins with shades of Job: Satan makes a bet with God that he can corrupt his favorite human. The curtain goes up on Gonound’s opera with the philosopher in despair. The Devil offers him youth and love and — spoiler alert — Faust signs the bargain.
     The plot, however, the duels and dances, is not the main reason I like “Faust.” Rather it is what is always my first consideration in opera: the music, which in”Faust” whirls in sinister menace and races with hell-bound drive.

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  1. We can't go a day without mentioning Donald Trump. I think he's the reincarnation of Herostratus of whom it was said, "But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity... Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it... Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembred in the known account of time?" The Greeks attempted to erase Herostratus's name from history; Trump is making sure we won't forget him.


  2. At last, a plausible explanation for our national madness!

    "Faust" is certainly a good introductory opera, the only downside being that it is full of "earworms," those tunes that wake you up in the middle of the night running through your head. I do, however, have to disagree about the ending. The Greeks, some centuries back, discovered the dramatic power of catharsis, the emotional cleansing that comes with the tragic end of a protagonist. It's something modern audiences can feel with the deaths of Mimi, Violetta or Aida, but you have to be into the old time religion to be so moved by Margareta's fate.

    I'm looking forward to Faust, but also saw the dress rehearsal of "Cosi fan Tutti," opening this Saturday, and would recommend it to Neil's legion of opera-loving fans. A fine ensemble of six gifted singing actors making a meal of Signor Da Ponte's politically incorrect treatment of the inconstancy of women and the foolishness of their lovers. And Herr Mozart's incomparable music.


  3. One day, I put in a DVD of Faust, and just had it playing while I was doing house junk. Nothing new, I have a huge variety of operas and musicals, and my kids were brought up with all this since birth. If they payed attention, cool, if not, that was fine too, in other words, no forced listening. Back to Faust, about a week after I had played it, my sons kindergarten teacher called me because she was very concerned about what he was calling this other little boy. She said he was calling the boy Mephistopheles, and she had no idea what it meant. I asked if the boy was a bully or mean, she said yes. That made me laugh, and I had to explain where the name came from and what he meant. Rather proud of my son for that.

    1. Always loved the word "Mephistopheles"-- just rolls off your tongue -- and I can see where it would make a fitting companion for a very common street epithet that also starts with "M."


  4. Trump signing a contract with Mephistopheles granting the Presidency in exchange for his immortal soul? Not likely, in that the Final Destination of Trump's soul was already most likely a done deal. And Trump would include a clause in the contract compelling everyone to like him, something I don't feel one iota. Whereas against my normal nature, I'm at times glad to hear the Cubs won a game or a division or some such.

  5. He is also the subject of the opera, "Mephistophele," by Ariggo Boito, who wrote both words and music. More faithful to Goethe than Gounod's "Faust," which Germans tend to dismiss as a trivialization. Not often done, but with the right, magisterial, bass, it can be a good show.



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