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IU Opera Theater presents all-new production of 'Faust' -- the man who trades his soul for youth

The immortal tale of Faust -- an aging scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for his lost youth -- comes to dynamic new life at the Musical Arts Center Feb. 25 under the stage direction of Tomer Zvulun. Faust is conducted by Jacobs Professor David Effron with new set and costume designs by Jacobs Professor C. David Higgins. Additional performances are Feb. 26 and March 4-5, all at 8 p.m.

Faust Shoot 2011
Performers in the upcoming production of 'Faust' include (from the left) Cody Medina as Méphistophélès, Jonathan Matthews as Dr. Faust and Rebecca Nathanson as Marguerite.

The first two performances of Faust will be live-streamed at http://music.indiana.edu/iumusiclive.

In this version of the classic tale, based on a Goethe play, the scene opens in present day. An aged Dr. Faust is morosely watching pictures from his youth on a big-screen TV when -- in desparation -- he curses god and summons the devil, Méphistophélès. Faust agrees to an ill-fated trade that ultimately takes him through seduction, humiliation, murder and madness in a heinous joyride to hell.

"The most important moment in Faust is very theatrical, and happens quite early; he is transformed into a young man from an old, aging scholar," said stage director Zvulun, a director for the Metropolitan Opera. Zvulun previously collaborated with set and costume designer Higgins at IU on Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) in 2009.

Faust Drawings
IU's C. David Higgins has designed the new set and costumes for 'Faust'.

"What we decided to do is extend the transformation, and make it not only the transformation of one person, but also a transformation of the whole world along with him," Zvulun said.

In the opening scene, Faust is an old man in 2011, reviewing his life in Germany in the 1930s. His soul-for-youth swap lands him back in the dreamlike, flashback world of his youth at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s. "Faust is a timeless story of regret and lost faith," Higgins said. "Our production focuses on the inevitable human condition of examining choices made and opportunities lost as one faces death. What would you do if you could do it all over? This I think is the essential question of the opera."

Zvulun is pleased to renew his working relationship with Higgins, with whom he also worked on the traveling production of Die Zauberflote for the Atlanta Opera. "While we were in rehearsal for The Magic Flute in Atlanta, we would have dinners and a few drinks and talk about this new concept of Faust," he said. "David and I are very similar in our approach. I am very influenced by cinema and movies, and David is a wonderful designer who really gets what I am looking for in terms of aesthetics."

Part of their vision for Faust was the creation of something that appealed to audiences hundreds of years ago that would also speak directly to young audiences today, Zvulun said.

"How do you tell a story in a world of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings that speaks to audiences and keeps them connected? There are themes of religious salvation and eternal damnation, but how do you present that without becoming trite and old-fashioned?"

Zvulun said the two focused the opera on the fight between darkness and light, good and evil, individual and society, and the loss of innocence. "When we get old, everyone misses their past and wishes they had a second opportunity to go back there," Zvulun said. "That's what we're doing in our show. We're actually going back to the past and back to the future."

Visit the production Web site, with the synopsis, program notes, and photos, http://www.music.indiana.edu/opera/faust/index.html.

If you go

Faust performances at the Musical Arts Center (101 N. Jordan Ave.) are scheduled for Feb. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday) and March 4-5 (Friday-Saturday) at 8 p.m. Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. or phone 812-855-7433. To order tickets through Ticketmaster, phone 1-800-745-3000, or purchase online at http://www.ticketmaster.com/venue/41149/. A discounted price, through the MAC Box Office, is available for all students who wish to attend. Bursar Billing: The MAC Box Office will now be able to handle on-site bursar billing for students. Please note: tickets billed to your bursar account must be purchased by 5:30 p.m.

This story was originally published Feb. 15, 2011.

--Jennifer Piurek