It’s not hard to reinvent the classic “Faust,” the quintessential story of the man making a deal with the devil, in contemporary times.
Director Lileana Blain-Cruz only had to draw inspiration from modern American culture to recreate Gounod’s opera, created in 1859.
It’s a landscape of football, war, bars and massive churches with neon lights. And Faust is not an aging academic wondering how he spent his life, but a tech millionaire “who has everything, who has accumulated information and shaped the way the world thinks and moves. And yet he feels empty.
“American culture was my contemporary environment and that felt pretty important to me. That was the main guiding principle,” says Blain-Cruz, resident director of Lincoln Center Theater. loneliness and ultimately faith in something greater than all our worldliness.”
“Faust” marks Detroit Opera’s second production of the current season, with performances Saturday and again next weekend. Blain-Cruz premiered this production at Opera Omaha, which features original music by Gounod and a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré for the Théâtre Lyrique.
“Faust” stars Zach Borichevsky as Faust, Robert Pomakov as Mephistopheles, Amina Edris as Marguerite, Babatunde Akinboboye as Valentin, Jenny Anne Flory as Siébel, Ben Reisinger as Wagner and Victoria Livengood as Dame Marthe. Reisinger is a resident artist at the Detroit Opera.
The Omaha World Herald called this version of “Faust” a “heavenly debut”, commenting, “Rather than telling a story of heroes and villains, Blain-Cruz managed to show audiences human beings with rare honesty.” .
Tony nominee Blain-Cruz says she’s always been intrigued by “Faust,” about what drives a man to sell his life to the devil. Faust strikes a deal for a second chance for youth, vitality and love, but his action has disastrous consequences for him and those around him. This theme also intrigues Blain-Cruz – how decisions made by the powerful impact everyone and “how it still resonates” in modern times.
Blain-Cruz, whose recent projects include “The Skin of Our Teeth” at Lincoln Center and “Dreaming Zenile” at the McCarter Theater Center in St. Louis, says like Faust, we all struggle with what it means to live and what we try to withdraw from life. “These themes still resonate…we can all relate to Faust, him living in his books and us living behind our screens,” she says. What is my real life? What is happening outside and around me? Did I miss life itself somehow?
In his modern lens, Faust, part of the 1%, is seduced by the one thing his money can’t buy.
“Gounod, in this opera of numbers, has created a clear dramatic story with people living passionate journeys to transcendence,” says Blain-Cruz. “The desire to flesh out these characters is what also makes me so happy that we did the first version of this opera at Opera Omaha, and now we’re doing it again at Detroit Opera, with additional dialogue and music that add to the complexity of the characters and their relationships.
Despite some dark themes, Blain-Cruz describes his version of “Faust” as fun and full of laughs. “It starts out fun and fun,” she says. The story is really invested in human beings and a group of “amazing characters” on a tumultuous journey through their lives and a collapsing love story.
“I want people to feel things at the end of the show,” she says. “I think it’s a really moving opera. It’s moving because it carries all the complexities of real human beings. You can immerse yourself in their stories and remember the complicated questions about choice and how we live our lives.
Saturday’s performance marks the professional debut of Reisinger, who is about to earn a master’s degree at Michigan State University. The 27-year-old baritone plays Wagner, whom he describes as a kind of fraternity boy, “a party-type life.” In the original staging, Wagner is Faust’s learned assistant.
“I kind of resonate with that character a ton,” he says. “(He is) fun to play. The dialogue gives a lot of food to the character… I really like the lightness of this version. Many Fausts can be dark and not fun to watch. This (production) has a lot more character depth…lots of fun theatrical stuff. There are good moments of seriousness and pleasure, which is great.
Reisinger, a native of Rochester, New York, is one of five singers in the Detroit Opera’s Resident Artist Program. This program provides comprehensive career development for emerging artists who have demonstrated their potential to make significant contributions to the art form. He is the only resident artist of the “Faust” production.
Upcoming productions at Detroit Opera in the 2022-23 season include: a revival of Tazewell Thompson’s production of Xerxes (March 4-12), directed by James Blaszko and directed by Dame Jane Glover; and Ainadamar (April 8-16), appearing in a co-production with Opera Ventures, Scottish National Opera, Metropolitan Opera and Welsh National Opera conducted by Deborah Colker and conducted by Paolo Bortolameolli.
7:30 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 18 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 20
1526 Broadway, Detroit
Tickets: $29 and up