Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 30
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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The Devil and the Opera Company: Opera New Jersey Presents “Faust”

Nancy Plum

For this past weekend’s Opera New Jersey (ONJ) production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, the protagonist might have done better to make a deal with the Devil over McCarter Theatre’s fire alarm system rather than for eternal youth. A rather untimely alarm in the first act of Friday night’s performance sent the audience to the street, breaking the flow of the performance, but despite the interruption, this second performance of the show (the opera was premiered the previous week) demonstrated that Opera New Jersey had put together a production which may only have needed some tightening up to make the best use of the voices onstage.

Performed in French with English supertitles, this production of Faust was an opportunity for a wide range of character development and special effects. After bemoaning his fate of growing old, Faust (sung by tenor Leonardo Capalbo) called upon Mephistopheles for aid in his despair. Opera New Jersey stage director Trevore Ross drew Mephistopheles from the back of the stage dressed as a 16th century dandy, setting up an effectively paced dialog in a rich duet between the two men. Mephistopheles was sung by one of the great vocal finds of the summer, bass Young-Bok Kim, reprising the same ominous evil as his role in ONJ’s earlier Don Giovanni. Deceptively casual onstage, Mr. Kim seemed to tower over his adversaries, no doubt through his command of the conniving nature of the character. With a rich bass voice and ability to own the stage, Mr. Kim clearly has a future as an operatic villain.

“Faust” will be repeated at McCarter Theatre’s Matthews Theatre on Saturday, July 31 at 8 p.m., with repeat performances of “Don Giovanni” and “Don Pasquale” over the next two weeks. For information call (609) 258-2787 or visit

New Jersey tenor Leonardo Capalbo came to his depiction of Faust with a solid international background in dramatic tenor roles. As the elderly Faust, Mr. Capalbo well conveyed the desperation of an old man seeking youth with a great deal of physicality in the part. Mr. Capalbo put his whole body behind his singing, creating great support to find dynamic nuances within the text and good control over the range of registers. He provided solid aria singing from the outset, with an especially elegant Act III “Salut! demeure,” delicately accompanied by obbligato violin.

The fair maiden whom Mephistopheles summoned at Faust’s request was the young Marguerite, sung by soprano Inna Dukach, who also came to ONJ with a repertory of heavy-duty roles. ONJ cast this role as a solid and sturdy woman who eventually wins Faust’s heart. Ms. Dukach’s very expressive face helped to sell her arias, especially in the lengthy Act III in which she easily shifted from the pensive “King of Thule” ballad to the demanding upper register of the “Jewel Song.”

Eric Dubin, singing the role of Valentin, and Patrick McNally, singing as the student Wagner, both showed solid baritone voices and lively characterizations. One pleasant character surprise was the pants role of Siebel, sung by mezzo-soprano Katherine Calcamuggio. Appearing tall and gangly, Ms. Calcamuggio well captured the frenetic adolescence of the boy Siebel, in love with Marguerite. Ms. Calcamuggio’s energy was nonstop as she spun off Siebel’s arias with a light voice leaning more toward the soprano register than mezzo. The minor role of Marguerite’s neighbor Marthe was sung by Sarah Klopfenstein with a rich and mature voice which belied her studio artist status.

Conductor Mark Flint led the New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra in music that was rich in French harmony, and much darker than the two previous ONJ productions this summer. With a languid conducting style, Mr. Flint drew a luxuriant sound from the strings (well punctuated by a steady harp) and very graceful wing playing, including clarinet and oboe solos in the opening music to Act III.

Part of the appeal of this opera are the chorus numbers, and Keith Chambers had prepared an ensemble whose men may have been a bit rough around the edges, but the slight vocal coarseness fit in with their scenes of revelry. It was also clear that there were some very good individual voices within the chorus. Visually, video projectionist Barry Steele demonstrated a more understated approach to special effects than in Giovanni, enabling the singers to retain control of the stage.

Opera New Jersey took on quite a bit this summer, with Don Giovanni, Don Pasquale and Faust as the centerpieces of a season which also included evenings of operatic scenes. Faust was the meatiest and most challenging of the three operas and, although last Friday night’s performance may not have been the most succinct (between a fire alarm and two over-long intermissions), one cannot argue with the audience’s appreciation of the singers, many of whom were new to the Princeton stage and will hopefully return.

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