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Review: Utah Symphony, singers soar in 'The Damnation of Faust'

Published September 27, 2013 11:54 pm

Review • Top-notch soloists set the tone as Fischer and orchestra outdo themselves.
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Utah Opera has a tough act to follow this season.

Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony wrapped up an outstanding opening month with a stunning performance of Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust." It isn't an opera, per se (Berlioz labeled it a "dramatic legend"), and it's most often performed without sets and costumes. But with its extreme vocal writing, epic dramatic stakes and nearly three-hour running time, it might as well be an opera. Fischer has assembled one of the finest casts of singers ever to appear in Abravanel Hall, and the Utah Symphony elevated its playing to match them in Friday's performance. The orchestra's focused, disciplined playing never let the momentum sag.

Tenor Michael Spyres was in complete command as Faust, inhabiting the character with expert vocal inflection, facial expression and body language. He was always compelling, even when singing about his soul-crushing ennui, and he never betrayed a hint of strain in this ridiculously virtuosic role. Baritone Roderick Williams was a frighteningly charismatic Méphistophélès, wily and jovial one moment, soothing and gentle the next. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey sang with a smooth, gorgeous tone and impeccable nuance as Marguerite, the woman who falls for Faust. Orchestra members Brant Bayless (viola) and Lissa Stolz (English horn) made marvelous duet partners for Lindsey at key moments.

Bass-baritone Adam Cioffari was spot-on as Brander, who regales Faust and the other bar patrons with a story about an ill-fated rat. (Under Fischer's direction, the Utah Symphony's colorful accompaniment made all of the stories within this story — Brander's rat story, Méphistophélès' flea story and Marguerite's tale of the bereaved king — gripping in their own right.) Soprano Tara Stafford-Spyres rounded out the top-notch quintet as the Celestial Voice, singing Marguerite into heaven at the end of the production.

The Utah Symphony Chorus, augmented by singers from the Utah Opera Chorus and University of Utah, gave a strong performance that sent out chorus master Susanne Sheston — who, fittingly enough, made her debut leading the Utah Symphony Chorus in "The Damnation of Faust" 10 years ago — on a high note. —

Utah Symphony

Thierry Fischer leads the orchestra in a performance of Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust."

With • The Utah Symphony Chorus, prepared by Susanne Sheston and augmented by singers from the Utah Opera Chorus and the University of Utah; mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey (Marguerite); tenor Michael Spyres (Faust); baritone Roderick Williams (Méphistophélès); bass-baritone Adam Cioffari (Brander); and soprano Tara Stafford-Spyres (Celestial Voice).

When • Reviewed Friday, Sept. 27; repeats Saturday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m.

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

Running time • 2 hours, 40 minutes, including intermission.

Tickets • $23 to $74 at http://www.utahsymphony.org.

Learn more • Fischer and Utah Symphony VP Toby Tolokan will chat about the music onstage an hour before downbeat.