Details prove devilish with Lyric’s second-cast “Faust”

Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 1:30 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

One can hardly come up with better Halloween-eve repertoire than Faust. For the Lyric Opera’s final three performances of its acclaimed revival of Gounod’s opera, the company is fielding two new male principals. And while the Lyric’s Faust remains a compelling show, the two new cast members provided distinctly mixed rewards on Friday night.

The good news is that Kyle Ketelsen made a fine Mephistopheles. Following Rene Pape in this role is a thankless task for any singer and Ketelsen’s middleweight bass-baritone doesn’t possess much dark sonorous heft at the low end.

Still, Ketelsen was an imposing villain, moving with feline grace, and handing the drama and humor with easy confidence. Vocally, Ketelsen  did all that was expected, delivering an inspired Serenade, singing well and balancing the devilish nasty with tonal elegance.

Joseph Kaiser as Faust proved decidedly variable. Though the very tall tenor possesses a strong, attractive voice, Kaiser sang with little sense of French style or refinement, coming off as a kind of Americanized Joe Faust. His loud, hectoring style made a hash of Salut, demeure with a pinched, decidedly unheroic top C, and high notes were ragged elsewhere. Kaiser improved after Act 3 vocally and dramatically and was at his best in the final scene, with more polished singing and forcefully conveying Faust’s violently conflicted emotions, but this was, at best, an inconsistent outing.

There was some end-of-run fatigue evident Friday night with a few slack ensemble moments and several late curtain drops. An extra staging rehearsal seems in order to tighten things up for the final two performances.

Otherwise, the Lyric’s Faust remains a terrific show with Ana Maria Martinez’s powerful Marguerite the fulcrum, along with Lucas Meachem’s outstanding Valentin. Sir Andrew Davis had a packed week conducting Faust and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but even after a CSO matinee the same day, he directed a superb performance Friday evening with glowing and responsive playing by the Lyric Opera musicians.

There are two more performances of Faust Nov. 3 and 7.; 312-332-2244.

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One Response to “Details prove devilish with Lyric’s second-cast “Faust””

  1. Posted Oct 31, 2009 at 3:03 pm by Hank Browne

    I saw the first cast. The three male principals blew me away, literally (I sit in row 2). Never have I heard testosterone at this level. Pape was great. All acting was superb–gone is “stand and deliver.” Martinez is a fabulous actor but she does not have that luscious French lyrical voice–her musicianship is unassailable.

    But the highlight of the performance was the orchestra and Davis. It was a brilliant, and apparently exhausting performance as good as any.

    Another star goes to the male chorus. Once again, as good as any Ive ever heard.

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