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Tv Opera Review : Bizarre Staging Of 'Damnation Of Faust'

March 29, 1986|CHRIS PASLES

So dramatic is Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust" that the temptation to stage it as an opera--even though it was intended for concert performance--occasionally proves irresistible.

One such effort is director Bernard Uzan's three-act version for the Opera Company of Philadelphia, to be televised Sunday at 1 p.m. on Channel 28. It is a shoddy, sensationalistic interpretation.

Uzan fuses Faust the character and Berlioz the composer into one literally hospitalized figure whose drug-induced fantasy conjures up fascists, harlots, drunks, beaten-down peasants, flagellators and transvestites to act out the story.

The director's most offensive, tasteless idea is to show fascist thugs executing concentration camp prisoners--to the "Hungarian March." His silliest is to have Marguerite rise out of a coffin pulled on a wagon by angels. But Uzan's tampering extends to changing the ending to claim that, through all this, the composer-figure has been redeemed.

Enacting these bizarre conceptions is a reasonably strong cast. James Morris makes a cruel Mephistopheles and sings with power and authority. Curtis Rayam is a Faust low in heroic passion but sweet in tone. Nadine Denize is a lovely, secure, convincing Marguerite. Jules Bastin makes a snarly Brander. Serge Baudo conducts with only routine attention.

Alan Skog's frequent close-ups enforce a sense of overall static tableaus, while Marton Morton's sparse set, dominated by a heroic, headless torso, reinforces the oppressive atmosphere. Low-keyed introductions to each act are delivered by actor Anthony Perkins. The work is sung in French, with English subtitles.

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