I had the great pleasure of seeing Gounod’s Faust performed at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, December 10. The singing was spectacular, and the directing by Tony Award winner Des McAnuff was brilliant. Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya stole the show with her beautiful singing and superb acting, probably the best acting I have seen in any opera in recent years.
New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini panned the show. He did not like the fact that the director set the action in modern times against the backdrop of the development of the atomic bomb, as if the production of such horrific weapons has nothing to do with selling our souls to the devil. He also complains that Gounod’s opera is not sufficiently “philosophical” and the the Mephistopheles is “far too charming to be malevolent,” missing the fact that the devil’s charm is precisely what allows him to ensnare us into being so evil. Tommasini’s comments reveal that he has never read Goethe’s Faust from which the characters are drawn.
I found this production to be a gripping “morality play” that, in fact, moved Gounod’s pop opera much closer to Goethe’s original parable with its subtle philosophical allusions. Tarot readers will find that this production captures the essence of the Devil Trump. It becomes clear from the NY Times review that Mr. Tommasini has completely missed “des Pudels Kern,” a phrase I still remember from reading Faust in my college German class, meaning “the essence of the poodle.” Faust utters this comment when the poodle who follows him home turns into Mephistopheles. The Times reviewer can only see the poodle, nothing else.