The brand new production of Berlioz’s dramatic legend La damnation de Faust at the Deutsche Oper Berlin is an eerie and elegant regietheater take that left the audience in raptures. Directed and choreographed by Christian Spuck, this Faust brings Berlioz’s larger than life music to the fore, making it at once intimate and imposing, an Edward Gorey sketch brought to terrible life. Starring Klaus Florian Vogt as the titular Faust, Clémentine Margaine as his Marguerite, and Samuel Youn as Méphistophélès, the production's première was a raging success.

Klaus Florian Vogt (Faust) © Bettina Stöss
Klaus Florian Vogt (Faust)
© Bettina Stöss

The Faust legend is so pervasive and well known that one need hardly narrate it here. Berlioz’s take on the story closely mirrors Goethe’s, save that we never know exactly what it is that makes Faust so world-weary. Nor do we see much of Marguerite. The vocal roles seem to be almost beside the point, as Berlioz paints a picture with sweeping orchestral interludes that often invoke Faust’s beloved nature. Spuck’s production makes great use of these musical scenes by employing dancers; they tell us the story almost more than the singers do. It is ballet with operatic interludes.

Set on a tilted, round stage that revolves to show us a narrow underbelly serving as study, tavern and house, Spuck’s Faust takes full advantage of Berlioz’s assertion that the piece is a “dramatic legend”. We meet Faust communing with nature, a pair of male dancers silently swirling around him. Méphistophélès looms behind him and beckons the peasants onstage: they come in a nervy, jerking, creeping mass, clad in black with lurid yellow petticoats and wigs on the women.

Klaus Florian Vogt (Faust) © Bettina Stöss
Klaus Florian Vogt (Faust)
© Bettina Stöss

In no time at all, we learn that Méphistophélès is controlling these people and nothing is being done of anyone’s free will. From the soldiers, who process like clockwork and gang rape a chorus girl, to the vampiric spirits of nature, to the zombie-like townspeople accusing Marguerite of unspecified wickedness, all are under his devilish power. Even Marguerite, Faust’s innocent lover, is not what she seems. We watch Méphistophélès create her from a doll, kiss her into life, and ultimately destroy her.

Klaus Florian Vogt sang Faust, a man so bored with life that all he can do is look on in apathy as a group of soldiers rapes a young girl. His tenor was strong and powerful, his acting understated. Not even Marguerite’s imminent execution was enough to rouse this Faust. As Marguerite, Clémentine Margaine sang with a dusky desperation, her voice velvety and raw. They made a dynamic pair, light and dark put together.

Samuel Youn (Méphistophélès) © Bettina Stöss
Samuel Youn (Méphistophélès)
© Bettina Stöss

As Méphistophélès, Samuel Youn stole the show. His bass-baritone was sensual and dangerous, his acting sinister. A kiss on the cheek is all he needs to control people, and  terrible things happen to those he embraces. The world that Méphistophélès shows Faust is not the happy fairy tale world of the man’s delusions, and Youn embodied the danger of it all.

The chorus of the Deutsche Oper, led by William Spalding, performed more than admirably, as did the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper under Donald Runnicles. Tobias Kehrer was an excellent Brander in the tavern scene; one hopes to see him utilized more often. The only thing detracting from this excellent production was the video of galloping, animated hell horses at the end that, though tastefully rendered, bordered on kitsch. However, it was such a minor detail as to not affect the rest of this excellent performance at all. Don’t miss it! 

*****