Don’t we want it all? Don’t we want a now-version of Aida’s elephants? Marjorie Lawrence’s Brünnhilde riding a living horse into the flames of the Immolation Scene? Christine Daaé’s crashing chandelier? And all the while, don’t we want to hear such glorious singing that our ears, hearts and minds are stuffed like Thanksgiving-gluttony? Have we lost our expectation of opera as a cutting-edge medium? Get ready: the Lyric and Portland Opera’s new co-production of “Faust” will knock you on your ass.
How about a design spectacular that combines elements of sculpture, film, photography, projections and video into a giant whirlwind for the senses, underscoring, symbolizing, or simply “being”? Are you ready to just let it wash over you, without moment-to-moment analysis? When Fellini and Fassbinder’s “foreign” movies hit American’s shores, did we learn to stave off picking apart the way in which they combined disparate artistic elements to create something brand-spanking new, until dinner afterwards? With the same bravery but with different fundamentals, designers John Frame, Vita Tzykun, Duane Schuler and David Adam Moore, under the direction of Kevin Newbury, will drag you to a feast, and leave you with meat to chew for days, as you explore the intersection of the elements that only just hit your frontal lobe.
Conductor Emmanuel Villaume holds the reins with the aplomb that only deep affection for the piece and our orchestra can afford. The entire cast parades the chiaroscuro singing that harkens back to the glory days of “the old Met,” Lyric having blessedly eschewed the frequent casting of lighter voices for this opera. They soar over the orchestra but never with a grainy, whooping sound. Making his American debut in the title role, Benjamin Bernheim is riveting, his voice sparkles like diamonds and envelopes like velvet. Ailyn Pérez (Marguerite) turns the famous “Jewel Song” into an anthem, emotionally and vocally connecting it to the plot rather than tossing it off as a staccato-disconnect. As Méphistophélès, Christian Van Horn is so sexy in voice and carriage that spending a few hours with his glittering walking stick feels like an excellent idea.
Don’t we want it all? This production shows us the door. Open the door. (Aaron Hunt)
Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 North Wacker, (312)332-2244, lyricopera.org, $17-$319. Through March 21.