The Germans have long considered Gounod’s Faust an act of cultural desecration. For this reason, the opera has long gone here by the title Margarethe to show the French adaptation’s distance from Goethe’s play. This fact might help explain why Philip Stölzl chooses to tell the story from the heroine’s point of view.
In the first scene, we find the condemned Marguerite awaiting her execution on death row and ended with the sentence being carried out by lethal injection. In between, the recollections of her seduction and abandonment seem filtered through a hazy funhouse mirror. At least, that’s what I make of all the carnival elements in the production, including balloons, bumper cars and gingerbread hearts. The set itself suggests a merry-go-round. The action played out on a frequently rotating stage that was dominated by something resembling a water tower. The porcelain doll masks worn by the chorus and the sickly lighting certainly created an atmosphere of uneasiness, although the contrast with Faust and Mephisto’s glittering pink suits is jarring. Likewise, the elaborate prison scene, with its effective choreography, seems to belong to an entirely different production. The predominant onstage elements were stasis and recurrence – as indicated by the impressive and creepy frozen tableaus of playing schoolchildren – to reflect the production’s interior conceit.
Quite a bit of the libretto – especially early on – excludes Marguerite altogether. Stölzl turns the Walpurgisnacht scene into a fantasy of Marguerite and Faust’s wedding, which is arguably the production’s best idea.