As has been the case in the past, Knoxville Opera was kind enough to let me attend their dress rehearsal for the upcoming performances of their latest production. “Mefistofele,” will be presented Friday night at 8:00 PM and Sunday at 2:30 PM in the Tennessee Theatre. It’s one of those photographic gigs that just about shoots itself, the productions are so visually appealing.
Being as unschooled as I am in opera, I wouldn’t pretend to give a critical review of this or any classical performance. For that I would defer to my friend Alan Sherrod and his articles in the Mercury. He has a preview of the opera here. I am beginning to understand that different operas have varying strengths. Sometimes the sets are so amazing I forget to follow the plot. Sometimes it the vocal prowess of the actors or the costuming.
The story line, if you don’t know involves the classic deal with the devil, based on the Goethe’s “Faust,” published in its entirety in 1832. It’s compelling reading on any number of levels. The operatic adaptation by Arrigo Boito, his only opera, debuted in 1868 and failed immediately. It was only years and several adaptations later that it succeeded. “Mefistofele” has been performed 67 times by the Metropolitan Opera.
The story as distilled in the opera is, of course, a spiritual struggle. It raises very human questions, no matter what your religious perspective. What would be worth giving up everything else? Is it love? What if you got what you think you want? Would it be what you expected? Would there be unintended consequences? The play is provocative in that way. It is, however, very much a story of its time: Good has to win in the end. Personally, I thought the devil got ripped off. They had a deal! No way Faust should get a celestial reward. Ah well, it’s a modern quibble.
The thing that stood out most to me in this production was the amazing music. Again, I’m certainly not a classical-first kind of guy, but this music was stirring and dynamic throughout. Even before the production started formally, the prelude was exquisite and the power derived from the various ensembles assembled made its presence known from the outset.
The pit was used in the production, so the string section of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Brian Salesky performed from the back half of the stage. The brass section (and woodwind?) occupied the left and right extremities of the balcony, giving a surround sound effect. Additionally, the symphony was joined by the Knoxville Opera Chorus, the Knoxville Chamber Chorale, Ballet Gloria, the Pellissippi State Variations Ensemble and the Knoxville Opera Youth Choir. It was a classical “wall of sound” that would make Phil Spector proud.
The music was by turns emotionally overwhelming and intricate and simple. The melodies were accessible to a commoner like myself. The vocal performances all seemed fine to me, but the performance that gave me chills was that of Julia Lima as Margherita. Particularly, her performance in Act II, Scene II I thought shimmered. The choirs performed magnificently.
Donovan Singletary in the title role played a deliciously ominous devil. His expressions hit the right demonic note almost all night. Cody Austin as Dr. Faust did a fine job playing both an old scholar and a young lover. Allison Deady in a relatively minor role as “Marta,” stole her scene as she comically pursued the devil with amorous intent.
As always, I encourage you to consider a trip to the opera. As opera tickets go, these are inexpensive, starting at $13 for students and children and $21 for adults. You can get your tickets here. The photographs here represent a small fraction of those I took and kept. I’ll post several dozen more later today on the Inside of Knoxville Facebook Page.