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'Tosca' is best of Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre's supporting cast

By Jay Wamsley

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Kristopher Irmiter as Mephistopheles with Marc Schreiner as Faust in Utah Festival's 2012 production of "Faust."

Tamara Brown

LOGAN — While "My Fair Lady" is the highly promoted capstone of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre's 20th season, three other major productions are being staged in Logan.

"Faust"

When you open the program and the synopsis of a production ends with the phrase “eternal damnation,” you know it will not likely be light and airy.

Then the prelude to “Faust,” a grand opera by Frenchman Charles Gounod, begins, and it, too, could not be described as hopeful. Some measures of lightness, however, are dropped in before the curtain rises, thus beginning this war between good and evil that is “Faust,” the opening production of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre season.

“Faust” is a full-bodied interpretation of a German legend where a successful scholar and doctor, dissatisfied with his life near its end, makes a deal with the devil to become young again.

In response to a plea that God can no longer help him, the satanic Mephistopheles appears and completes the bargain with Faust, using the gorgeous, young Marguerite as bait.

The critical role of Faust is performed by UFOMT newcomer Marc Schreiner. Schreiner’s tenor is clear and precise, though not powerful. He shows great control in holding long notes and is in perfect character, though often too soft in his projection.

Dropped into the world as a younger man, Faust finds himself in the town square with a chorus of soldiers, villagers and the fair Marguerite. This first ensemble scene is a visual delight, with costumes and a set that blend together perfectly. We also begin to see expert lighting design in the production, such as when the evil Mephistopheles dominates the scene, it is bathed in tints of red.

The ensemble numbers felt a bit muted at the beginning of this early scene, but Satan’s irreverent and rousing ode to the golden calf is a strong transition for the chorus, which soon fills the theater with song. Mephistopheles is performed with flair and strength by Kristopher Irmiter, whose strong bass/baritone is easy to follow and appreciate.

Marguerite’s brother Valentin (Kyle Pfortmiller), about to leave for war, challenges Mephistopheles and sings of his love for his sister, whom he hates to leave behind. Pfortmiller shows spirit and passion in his singing not yet seen in the production, and his heartfelt farewell to his sister is an early highlight.

Marguerite (Jessica Medoff) soon is wooed and won by Faust, with the devil helping with the details. Medoff has a solid, easy-to-appreciate soprano, often overwhelming the more-muted Schriener. While nearly perfect in tone and quality — with a rolling, comfortable, nearly languid feel — the couple’s back-and-forth songs of love and duets could have used more fire and passion, though, to go with their precision.

Impregnated and abandoned by Faust, the final two acts focus on Marguerite’s heartfelt pain and repentance. Act IV’s setting of a cold, gray church is striking in its simplicity and mood. Lighting continues to be perfectly utilized.

Valentin’s return and response to his sister’s situation is the production’s highlight. Pfortmiller shows deep passion and his powerful voice hits hearts. His finale left the audience wanting more, perhaps longing for a quick rewrite of the classic to allow more stage time for Valentin and Pfortmiller.

But, alas, the dangers of making deals with the devil are borne out and a highly-memorable final moment of redemption and damnation closes Faust’s life and his tale.

"Kiss Me Kate"

Finding the opposite end of a mood swing, the hellfire and damnation of “Faust” gives way to the 1930 jitterbug dancing and gaiety of “Kiss Me Kate,” the second offering of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre company.

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