Soprano Yunah Lee, from left, and tenor Joshua Dennis play Marguerite and the title character, respectively, in Opera San Antonio’s production of
Opera San Antonio brought Charles Gounod’s “Faust” back to the city for the first time in half a century Thursday night, and with it, a brush with grand opera on a scale that could signal future higher aspirations for the performing arts company.
Since 2014, Opera San Antonio has operated as a fine regional opera company, mainly relying on sets and costumes from New York’s Glimmerglass Festival. Thursday night’s “Faust” was a step up. “Faust” impressed Thursday by presenting a high-caliber singing cast and insightful stage direction. Best of all was the magnificent, sweeping grand opera-style set and costumes from Houston Grand Opera, its 1986 production of “Faust” by famed director Francesca Zambello and artist Earl Staley.
At the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, all the elements fell together beautifully Thursday, a reminder that opulent opera once was commonplace in San Antonio, such as in 1969 when a young tenor named Plácido Domingo sang in “Faust” for local audiences.
The lush sets were so breathtaking, a wholly new one for each of the five acts that startled with depth and detail, that they drew applause from the audience of about 800 people at the Tobin Center. From the sets, along with the costumes, emerged a vision of the 1500s in what would now be Germany. The scenery combined with near-constant stage motion by the characters, chorus and others — including jugglers and acrobats — to keep the story flowing, all thanks to co-artistic advisers Garnett Bruce and E. Loren Meeker.
The cast reflected its wide experience, many of them reprising their roles from productions elsewhere. Tenor Joshua Dennis as Faust was versatile enough to shift from a bitter old man to a youth sincere in pursuing the pleasures of love after making his fabled deal with the devil.
Baritone David Pittsinger used his robust, piercing voice to fashion a Méphistophélès that was appropriately boss and conniving. Recent Grammy winner Edward Parks, a baritone, impressed as a protective, soldierly older brother to Marguerite. Mezzo-soprano Megan Samarin was spritely as the teenaged boy Siébel, while mezzo-soprano Alissa Anderson was sassy as Marguerite’s neighbor.
But the shining star was soprano Yunah Lee as Marguerite, who was really the main character, not Faust, because she was the only one who grows as a person, rising from her adolescent love of jewels in Act Three to the mature wisdom Marguerite must show in the Act Five. Her “Jewel Song” in Act Three was pure sweetness. The cast also sang well in ensembles during several scenes.
The well-rehearsed chorus of 36 singers performed well the role of the community’s voice and certainly was swell in Act Four’s “Soldiers’ Song.” The San Antonio Symphony in the pit played with gravity and balance under guest conductor Robert Tweten. The cellos and basses had an especially good night. The organ, played by Seth Nelson, added dramatic power to the final scenes.
“Faust” repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Tobin Center downtown.