Initially we see Méphistopheles and Faust as Franciscan monks in front of a black wall, Méphistophéles covering his face from the audience. Upon being summoned by Faust, he initiates the action by activating a slot machine, after which a three-storey set inhabited with punk-look-alikes in a casino is revealed, Marguerite lying in her bed upstage.
Quite unusually, the music as well as the stage movements occasionally ceases only to begin when activated by Méphistophéles. In this rather boring white-trash environment including a procession of dophin masks (point unkonwn), Marguerite is easily seduced by a few pieces of fake jewelry supplied by Méphistopheles, now dressed like a catholic priest.
After the intermission things get more interesting when the choristers form a crucifix around Méphistophéles, now in seemingly Russian orthodox church regalia, in a rather effective church scene. Faust remains a passive character throughout, far too passive to kill Valentin, which Méphistophéles does for him. As Marguerite, covered in blood, displays the body of her dead child, she is substituted for a parade of hookers in the Walpurgis night and ultimately kills herself. Is she saved? I think not: Upon Marguerite falling lifeless to the floor on the empty stage, the stage walls are removed to display a dinner party, behind which Méphistophéles disappears with Faust. Theater within the theater, presumably.
Karsten Wiegand´s overall point being? I am not sure, though my first guess would be a statement against organized religion. Where this staging fails however, is with the characterization of the protagonists and though Wiegand has some interesting points, there is simply not enough dramatic tension to keep this the boat floating throughout. Not to mention a more stringent dramaturgy in order to understand what is going on without having to rely on programme notes etc.
The singers, however were first rate.
Marina Poplavskaya was announced as indisposed with a cold, but nevertheless sang beautifully with her dusky soprano and strangely intense stage appearance.
René Pape was not initially announced as indisposed (at his own request apparently), though he clearly should have been, strangely unfocused in appearance, dashing aimlessly around the stage, forgetting the text and entrances as well as occasionally intonating flat, something I have never previously heard from him. Furthermore his entrances and exits from stage seemed very uncoordinated, particularly in Act 2, though perhaps he left as he was unwell. Immediately after the intermission came the announcement that he was indisposed and needed treatment for "circulatory problems", but would continue after an additional 10 minutes. Indisposed or not, he remains a smashing Méphistophéles, though, knowing his usual standards, this was not his evening.
Charles Castronovo was a wonderful Faust with beautiful tone, fine phrasings, understandable French, effortless high notes as well as a sympathetic, though not overly engaged stage presence. Silvia de la Muela was a sympathetic Siebel and Roman Trekel a dramatically convincing, though dry Valentin.
Much applause for Alain Altinoglu in the pit, the only intrinsic French element to this performance. He obviously has plenty of ideas with this score, though his shift in tempi were rather abrupt and lacked consistency. But the orchestra played well for him, though at times he was almost intolerably slow.
Exactly what version of Faust was played I am not sure, but it is one I have never heard before. Both Marguerite´s spinning wheel scene and the Walpurgis night was included, both abridged, however and by more than just the ballet. And several small spoken recitatives were included, as well as plainly spoken sentences within some of the arias, most notably Siebels.
I was surrounded by (as well as deafened by) very loud booers, and it is my clear impression that they won out, for what it is worth.
Marina Poplavskaya: 4-5
Charles Castronovo: 4-5
René Pape: na
Silvia de la Muela: 3
Roman Trekel: 3-4
Karsten Wiegand: 2-3
Alain Altinoglu: 3-4
Overall impression: 4
Photographs from the company website