The second performance this year in the New Israeli Opera subscription was Gounod’s ‘Faust’. It is my preferred work by Gounod, the very typical example of the French Grand Opera at its best. It’s a story of contrast and absence and the title may be mistaken. The libretto inspired by Goethe does not place Faust in the center of the story, and actually all the reward and penitence drama is cut short to make out of Marguerite the principal heroine, one of the greatest tragical feminine characters in the history of opera. Faust’s tenor part although not deprived of a few great musical moments is only one point in musical triangle which offers space for  the Margeurite’s soprano and Mephistopheles’ bass parts to conduct the principal musical dialog in the drama. It also is one of the better and most coherent stories in the grand opera history. Despite of its five acts and more than three hours  ‘Faust’ is very well built dramatically, has almost no dead or repetitive moments, and leads the audience to the redeeming finale. It’s a moralistic ending were death and tragedy also mean salvation. While the Devil is almost permanently present on stage for the duration of the story, it is the invisible God that has eventually the upper hand.

The current staging is directed by Paul-Emile Fourny, the general and artistic director of the Opera of Nice, and the result is more than satisfying. With help from set designer Poppi Ranchetti, Fourny localizes the action of the timeless story in the European  landscape of the end of the 19th century, so that the wars connotation and the ambiguous French and German balance receive an very exact political and historical connotation, in a dark post-Gothic and almost mono-chromatic atmosphere.  The cast of singers is extremely well balanced, maybe the best balanced cast that I have seen on the stage of the NIO in many years. Paata Burchuladze is a favorite of the Israeli audiences who love him and whom he loves, and the chemistry between him and the public compensates for the slightly fading vocal capabilities.  The Swiss soprano Noemi Nadelmann who was a sensible and impressive Margueritte, has a very pleasant and well rounded voice that fit well in the dimensions of the character. American tenor Scott Piper sang a fair Faust, while Israeli Shira Raz and Georgian Stella Grigorian had smaller but just to the point performances that made us wish to hear them more and in more extensive roles. The young conductor Omer Welber who at the age of less than 30 became house director of the opera orchestra (and Rishon LeZion symphony orchestra) led well the musical part in one of the good opera evenings of the season.