Boston Opera Collaborative celebrates its 10th Anniversary Season, and they continue to innovate the Greater Boston opera community with its recent production of Charles Gounod’s Faust et Marguerite. Stripped to ninety minutes of intimate song, faith, and redemption, the Boston Opera Collaborative’s Faust et Marguerite is an astonishing treat for modern audiences to experience the splendid music in a truly intimate atmosphere and storytelling. For those familiar with the Faust legend, you will find a brand-new story full of love and suspense, featuring some masterful work by soprano Emily Jensen as Marguerite.
Faust et Marguerite is streamlined by Music Director Nicholas Place and Stage Director Patricia-Maria Weinmann to include all of the essentials and trimming some of the original’s distractions and extraneous characters. Told in a Prologue (which passes by far too quickly and could use a bit more focus) and two Acts (which should omit the Intermission), the original adaptation of the classic 1859 opera follows Faust (rich and nuanced tenor Salvatore Atti), starting as an aged and broken-down man, as he enters a deal with Mephistopheles (played by the stoic and creepy Brian Church), an agent of the Devil. And, here, we’re introduced to our final major player, the beautiful and virginal Marguerite (played with glorious clarity in voice and acting by soprano Emily Jensen). Rounding out the cast is Krista Marie Laskowski who plays the steadfast and endearing young suitor, Siebel, one of the best “pants roles” performances that I have seen recently. Laskowski makes each of Siebel’s songs feel inspired and flow seamlessly from the opera’s action and story. Laskowski’s rich soprano fills the space to gorgeous effect, charming the rest of us to take a second look at this neglected lover.
But the focus of the story is on the romance between Atti’s Faust and Jensen’s Marguerite, and how Church’s Mephistopheles attempts to claim their simple love and lives. Church has mixed success for the complex and metaphysical Mephistopheles, and he delivered a forgettable performance. In any other production, the lack of a powerful villain might be fatal to the production’s success, but the Boston Opera Collaborative’s Faust et Marguerite had so much depth in its chemistry and relationship between the two lead lovers. It was delightful to watch these Atti and Jensen find their strength and voices in expressing their love and excitement. Atti’s middle register was most powerful, creating a warm wall of sound in the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box; his upper register felt a little strained under the range. Jensen’s sweet soprano was surprisingly versatile, sweeping over us with her more reflective lower register and reaching powerful heights in her clear and crisp upper register. Jensen’s command over her vocal presence, mixed with her evolving character as a young girl to a neglected pregnant woman, created a palpable and heartrending performance.
Stage Director Patricia-Maria Weinmann weaves a wonderful story in this intimate space, guiding the performers through a character study of love, faith, and devotion. The opera passes quickly before our eyes, but Weinmann creates wonderful moments of beauty, especially in her stage pictures and the movement by the performers across the stage. In particular, she utilizes women in all black to symbolized Mephistopheles’ demons to move set pieces and transition the story. Music Director Nicholas Place assembles an exceptional orchestra for the tiny space, focusing on the rich depth of each performer’s sound rather than a breadth of voices or colors. The string orchestra sounded heavenly mixed with Place at the keyboard, mimicking a church organ. The balance between this orchestra and the vocalists was lovely and kept the opera’s words and the performer’s voices at the center of our attention. While I did not find the songs memorable or noteworthy, the performances, especially Jensen’s, kept me captivated for the afternoon’s matinee.
Costume Designer Kristen Connolly does impressive work, reinforcing character and mood with her sharp colors and simple design choices. The pants and suspenders for Laskowski's Siebel is one of the more flattering costumes for a pants role. Jensen's blue and white dress was a perfect reflection of her character, becoming tattered and torn as the opera (and the character) progressed and matured. Andrea Nice's set design was stark and commanding, utilizing the Plaza Black Box's pillars to wonderful effect. The collaboration between Nice's set and Chris Bocchiaro's lighting design made these two designs more than the sum of their parts. The nice work of shadows and bursts of light, including the tinted windows and sharp edges, made this environment even more alarming, especially as we traveled to Hell and back with these characters.
More so than the story or the individual performances, this production symbolizes an important shift by the Greater Boston opera community, lead by innovative companies such as Boston Opera Collaborative. By realizing the opera’s potential, the inherent focus of the opera’s story, and streamlining and adapting the original, Weinmann and Place treat us to a stunningly accessible morsel of a classic story and opera to whet our palette. The Boston Opera Collaborative is giving performers an opportunity to showcase their talents in new ways, and allowing Greater Boston audiences to experience these treasures at affordable prices and in productions that match our attention span and interests. In its tenth season, the Boston Opera Collaborative is a company to celebrate and support; with faith and love, I wish them much success in how they continue to shape our Greater Boston opera and theatre community.