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The Russian American bass-baritone Mikhail Svetlov was a riveting Mephistopheles. Although he does not possess the low bass tones of such famous devils as Ezio Pinza, Nicolai Ghiaurov, or Samuel Ramey, Svetlov's warm, resonant voice and superior musicianship continually held the spotlight whenever he was on stage. Dramatically he was a lively, characterful Mephisto rather than the usual sinister villain.

Soprano Veronica Villarroel was an attractive, magnetic Marguerite. (She was a replacement for the ailing Ana Maria Martinez.) Villarroel clearly understands Gounod's rapturous vocal writing. Unfortunately her once impressive upper register is now harsh and unsteady. Her coloratura in the Jewel Song was hit or miss -- the note values often approximated. (The New York critics had commented on her unreliable high notes during her recent run of Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan.) There was little chemistry between Zhang and Villarroel. Villarroel rose to a stirring final trio and brought surprising dramatic power to the church scene.

Hyung Yun revealed a strongly resonant baritone and dashing stage presence as Valentin. (Yun was a last minute replacement for the indisposed Guido LeBron.) Although her basic vocal quality is attractive Kathryn Friest often sounded coarse and ugly in the upper register. Too much head voice, perhaps? She made Siebel a touching figure -- Marguerite's only real friend in a repressive society. Susan Nicely was a perky Marthe with a lovely mezzo-soprano voice and smooth, unforced vocal production.

When sung and played with conviction Gounod's opera can still provide an exciting evening of lyric theater. Jianyi Zhang's clarion tenor and Richard Buckley's compelling conducting turned the Palm Beach Opera version of Faust into an often memorable traversal of a great French opera!

Copyright © 26 March 2005 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA



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