DORA AWARDS (Toronto), Nomination for Best Production of the Year (2007)


FAUST by Charles Gounod, loosely based on the novel by Johann von Goethe
Conductor: Emmanuel Joël/Yannick Nezet-Saguin/Vjekoslav Sutej
Cast: Friede/Wall/O’Flynn/Ibarra, Clarke/Schmunk/Pomeroy, Bianchini/Volpe/Doss/Silins, Patriarco/Nicholson/Zeller/Polegato
Production: N. Muni (stage direction/scenery/projections /clothes), T. C. Hase (lighting), S. Butterworth (hair/make-up)

“Choosing one mind-blowing moment from what might be Vancouver Opera’s most stunning production ever is no easy task. Early on, there is Faust, smearing his name in scarlet blood across the black-and-white, Basquiat-like scribblings on his lab walls. Near the end, there is a chorus suddenly materializing in the upper levels of the Queen E. Theatre to sing a transcendent song of redemption. It’s not just the spectacular scenes that make director Nicholas Muni and his team’s production the must-see show of the season. The singers are powerhouses across the board, with characters emotionally complex enough to give more drama than composer Charles Gounod probably ever intended.  But what ultimately makes this production so important is that it proves old operas can be made new, exciting, and relevant. The set is cutting-edge contemporary: stark white, metallic grey, and black punched up with shocks of bright red and neon; each setting underscores the psychological and emotional extremes much more than a traditional period backdrop might. When we first meet Faust, he inhabits an off-kilter universe, a heavily graffitied, claustrophobic lab with severely slanted walls, its big white globe light hanging on an angular axis. Later, a larger version of that tilted, art deco–ish sphere becomes a heavenly body floating ominously over the characters.  That’s just one clever visual device. Wait till Méphistophéles looms in the darkness, glowing phosphorous green while lit from below by neon-blue flowers. Or when that giant, now luminous-purple orb drops to artfully obscure Faust and Marguerite as they consummate their romance. Or when Marguerite, clutching her illegitimate child, appears from a window that seems to free-float in a surreal, Yves Tanguy–style sky. Which of these is the most mesmerizing? It’s something you’ll have fun debating for weeks and how often do you do that after a night at the opera?”
Janet Smith, The Georgia Straight  (April 2006)

“Designer opera can be a hit-or-miss affair. Lucky for us that Nicholas Muni’s Faust (originally created for Cincinnati Opera) ends Vancouver Opera’s season with a resounding success–a visual and theatrical tour de force. In our era of tight budgets and limited rehearsals, too many conventional productions amount to little more than a vocal concert with sets and costumes thrown in. Muni’s production is consistent theatre–inventive, crowded with action and lots and lots to watch. Intriguingly, costumes suggest the composer’s own Second Empire Paris, not the 16th century Germany indicated by the score. Sets are spectacular, created with a shifting sense of scale that juxtaposes tight, claustrophobic boxes with expansive spaces…wonderful sets and striking effects. Muni’s stylish makeover telescopes Gounod’s well-upholstered five acts into two parts…pacing is tight. Muni’s vision gradually darkens as the piece unfolds, lashed with a post-modern sense of irony that clashes productively with the old-fashioned musical rhetoric of the score. No one could possibly consider Gounod’s characters real flesh and blood, but Muni forces us to see them as more than symbols or stock figures. It’s all vastly entertaining, yet still disconcerting enough to make for an evening of provocative theatre.”
Ken Stabler, Vancouver Sun  (April, 2006)

“The Portland Opera’s set direction and lighting are invariably top-shelf, and in Faust, they’re no less stunning. The choreography, too, including one scene involving an enormous Mother Earth puppet, was at times enjoyably reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. As compelling as the theatrical performance itself was, the entire cast handed in impressive performances.”
Will Gardner, Portland Mercury (November, 2006)

“In an attempt to brush away the cobwebs, director-designer Nicholas Muni has devised a visual collage of modernist sets. The main set for the work features large grafitti on the walls from Dr. Faust’s scientific notebooks. The set slides into separate pieces which move about and change colours and thus adapt to most of the several scenes required. This welcome flow is disrupted in the second half when the Walpurgis Night has been converted into a huge mauve bed – very Hugh Hefner-esque – in which lie numerous alluring women. Visually it’s a knock-out.  In the prison scene it is made clear that Marguerite’s memories of Faust are definitely of the carnal kind. This helps counter her image as a boring goody-goody…for Marguerite’s apotheosis the stage is encased in billowing white silk while the chorus sings from the 5th Ring. This is the first time the chorus has been so placed in the new theatre, and the effect is both powerful and mysterious. All in all, this a visually striking, musically solid and thought-provoking production.”
Michael Johnson, Concerto Net (February, 2007)

“The Canadian Opera Company production of Gounod’s Faust, directed by Nicholas Muni, opened at the new Opera House today…last April I saw the Vancouver Opera production of Faust, also directed by Muni. It was technically spectacular and I was curious to see how it would be staged in a different venue. Perhaps it was where I was seated or perhaps just familiarity with the previous production but I found that some of the staging actually worked better on this stage. From the opening scene of Faust in his formula-covered white walled study to the dramatic plummeting of the ceiling onto Marguerite before she is saved while Faust and Mephistopheles descend into hell – it is quite visually stunning.”
Gillian Mack, (Re)View from the House (February, 2007)

‘Faust,” with its dusty anachronisms and slightly seedy charm, seems a perfect fit for the worn and battered ambiance of an ordinary touring company. But this production is both attractive in its utilitarian way and very well staged. Nicholas Muni’s direction has been carefully and often cleverly worked out.”
Bernard Holland, NY Times (October, 1985)

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