FAUST: A New Vision for a Timeless Opera

Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In March, Lyric presents a hauntingly original twist on a timeless tale with a brand-new production of Gounod's Faust. Director Kevin Newbury has collaborated with the renowned sculptor and visual artist and first-time production designer John Frame (operatic debut), set and costume designer Vita Tzykun (Lyric debut), lighting designer Duane Schuler, and projections designer David Adam Moore (Lyric design debut). Together, they have created an alternate reality that expands and reconfigures Frame's three-dimensional collages to fill the stage. This new approach to the Faust legend will be like nothing you’ve ever seen at Lyric.

These artistic visionaries join forces this month with conductor Emmanuel Villaume (a brilliant interpreter of French opera) and the outstanding cast plus the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Intensive staging and musical rehearsals, costume fittings, and technical rehearsals will ready all participants for the new production’s big reveal on March 3.

Inspired by Goethe’s magnum-opus play, composer Charles Gounod’s opera is well known and beloved for its gorgeous French-Romantic score. It concerns the aged philosopher Faust (Benjamin Bernheim/American debut), who – at the urging of Satan’s agent, Méphistophélès (Christian Van Horn) – is made young again in exchange for his soul. The drama encompasses Faust’s encounter with the innocent Marguerite (Ailyn Pérez, Mar. 3-18; Ana María Martínez, Mar. 21), his wooing and subsequent abandonment of her, the death of her brother Valentin (Edward Parks/Lyric debut) at Faust’s own hand, and Marguerite’s ensuing madness, death, and redemption. Siébel (Annie Rosen) is the boy in love with Marguerite, and Marthe (Jill Grove), Marguerite’s busybody neighbor, offers comic relief.

A fan of the iconic story, Newbury wanted to make the theatrical experience of Faust “larger than life.” Ironically, he found inspiration in the small-scale, eerily surrealistic tabletop collages created by Frame, and persuaded the artist to allow elements of his existing artworks to be adapted into Lyric’s new operatic production. Newbury then enlisted Tzykun and Moore to transpose Frame’s work to the grand scale needed for the stage, and Schuler to create the desired atmosphere through evocative lighting. Frame may be new to operatic production design, but his collaborators have ensured that his whimsical and powerful vision will translate clearly to the stage.

Both Frame and Newbury are intrigued by the essential philosophical questions posed by Faust: What if I could go back and start over? How far would I go to do so? “When Art is doing its job well, it raises these questions in fresh and appealing ways,” Frame says.

Taking inspiration from Frame’s entire body of work, Tzykun translated his art into beguiling scenic design. She turned to late 19th- and early 20th-century fashion in designing costumes for Faust, while also incorporating a contrasting, ethereal look with hand-dyed ombré fabrics.

Moore worked with Frame’s artistic and stop-motion talents to build another visual element into the production. He designed projections that move with Faust’s elegant music to make for a cohesive sensory experience, and worked closely with Frame, who created shadow silhouettes for the projections that help establish a supernatural atmosphere.

Schuler notes that John Frame has “a very precise vision of how lighting affects his work,” with lighting being used for distinct accents rather than a general wash, which helped Schuler design theatrical lighting for this new production. Schuler also found that the projections help create a mood: “Most of the time the backdrop is a real projection fabric onto which a forest scene is printed. It’s the surrounding environment for the entire story. It takes light beautifully.”

Lyric has brought together a visionary creative team to illuminate a story defined by metaphorical shadows and light. You won’t want to miss this exciting new production of Faust.

Faust opens March 3, with just seven performances through March 21. Reserve your tickets online or call 312-827-5600.




Photos: Cory Weaver



Christian Van Horn's appearance generously sponsored by Lois B. Siegel.

 A coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Portland Opera.