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In performance: "Faust" at Washington Concert Opera

Charles Castronovo, John Relyea, and Antony Walker in WCO's "Faust." (Don Lassell)

Web-only review:

A "Faust" dominated by its devil
by Joe Banno

If you can't perform Gounod's "Faust" with full sets and costumes and hellish special effects, it's a good idea to put together a formidable team of singers who can make the audience forget the theatrical eye-candy. Conductor Antony Walker assembled a young and stylish cast for Sunday's non-staged Washington Concert Opera performance at Lisner Auditorium, and the piece -- even though sung in formal wear -- lost little of its dramatic punch.
(read more after the jump)

John Relyea -- the best of the Met's current crop of "house" basses -- is a well-practiced Mephistopheles, and tended to dominate the evening. Gounod wrote the devil's part as an elegant and engaging cad, and Relyea nicely filled that bill, his vividly word-specific vocal acting and winking leers to the audience bringing out the opera's vein of wry humor. Next to Relyea's satisfyingly deep and booming voice, tenor Charles Castronovo's Faust sounded small-scaled. But what a gorgeous instrument -- luminous throughout, with a dark and mellow cast and sweetly ringing high notes, allied to sensitive phrasing and terrific French.

The evening's Marguerite, Amanda Majeski, is a 25-year-old soprano who's been through some significant young-artist programs and is clearly destined for bigger things. While hers is a young voice that still has some settling and filling out to do, it already possesses a notable luster, a gleaming top and a genuine trill. Baritone Philip Cutlip deserves mention, too, for a smoothly sung, snarlingly spiteful Valentin. The pickup orchestra and chorus were reliable, and often more than that, with Walker conducting a smart, affectionately shaped reading.

-- Joe Banno

By Anne Midgette  |  November 24, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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