Review: Detroit Devours “Faust” At The Opera House!

Photo by John Grigaitis

Mephistopheles is not your name,
But I know what you’re up to just the same.”

~~~The Police (an 80’s New Wave band)

One of the greatest classics of World Literature is Faust, a tragic play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I studied World Lit in college, but I read Faust on my own, in my own time, not for class at good old U of M – where the athletes hardly go to class and drive brand-new sports cars; at least they did back in ’79. I remember a football player patting me on the head once in South Quad and calling me a word that sounds like “click.” That was my official freshman orientation. I get it, NCAA and Regents. Thanks; you’re doing a bang-up job.

But I went to U of M for an edumacation; and, years later, my thirst for more edumacation led me to a wish to experience “Faust in operatic form — knowing it to be one of the most powerful stories of all time.

Opening night at the Detroit Opera House is rife with excitement – and a cash bar! A full house of well-dressed Metro Detroiters wanted to experience something special. And it was. The music was tremendous. I saw the flashing hand of Steven Mercurio waving his baton from the depths of the orchestra pit throughout the electric performance. His passion was not only passed on to the wonderfully talented musicians in the pit with him, like Molly, who played her violin like she may’ve met Mephistopheles over at Lafayette Coney Island before the opera. Just kidding, Molly. You put the work in as a tartar at WSU. Tamerlane would be proud. I was thinking how cool it would be if I could write an opera based on Christopher Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine.” After all, I do write music and if I put my mind to it, and had the time, I think I could pull it off with a little help.

The opera starts with Faust, played by Russell Thomas, as an old man, contemplating a hemlock smoothie with kale. It looks like he’s deadset on dying, but hearing the morning buzz of human activity from his abode draws him back to life, as does an offer from Mephistopheles – who appears propitiously from the shadows.

Faust signs his soul away — and our opera takes off like a bat out of Halifax.

The violins are rocking as hard as titanium as Faust falls to Mephistopheles’s ample powers.

At first, it looks like he made a great deal. He falls in love with Marguerite, a beautiful damsel with a golden voice; and, with the sage advice of Mephistopheles, played by Matt Boehler, is able to seduce her – his main rival having been stymied earlier by one of the amoral demon’s low tricks.

Marguerite, played by Caitlyn Lynch, discovers some hidden and bedazzling jewelry Mephistopheles produces out of thin air with which for Faust to enchant her. Marguerite tries them on as Faust and Mephistopheles smile wryly in the distance. Marguerite sings the “Jewel Song” and nails it. At one point, her voice does an operatic roll I didn’t think was humanly possible. I’m blessed to have been at opening night. Bravo, Caitlin!

My buddy from Marysville was equally impressed. He dressed up wearing his official Society of Unapologetic Pluto Huggers (SUPH) tee shirt with a high-quality print of Plontonimus on it — a Plutonian I drew a few years ago that’s one of my best. Mephistopheles, of course, is also knows as Satan; the Greek god Hades (known in Latin as Pluto) was also the ruler of the Underworld. Hades was the brother of Zeus (Jupiter in the Roman Empire), the greatest god of early Western Civilization, a civilization we belong to to this very day.

When the International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded Pluto on St. Bartholomew’s Massacre Day 2006 (August 24th) to a dwarf planet, they didn’t just demote the god of Hell, they insulted all the Greek and Latin gods, and Western Civilization itself. Their executive committee members will tell you how scientific it was; but let me enlighten you.

First of all, if Earth was in Pluto’s orbit, it’d not be a planet, as it can’t “clear its path,” either, from that distance from the Sun. Any definition of a planet that makes Earth a non-planet is not only absurd, but preposterous. Pluto may be smaller than the seven largest moons in our solar system, but Mercury, too, has solar system moons larger than him, viz., Ganymede and Titan. Why wasn’t Mercury deplanetized, too? Yeah, right; thought so!

Pluto is 2/3rds the size of the Moon, otherwise known as Luna. Some yahoos on the net have called Pluto “minuscule” and other potshot names. So, the Moon is just a notch above minuscule?

Give me a break!

Lastly, dwarf stars like our yellow dwarf star we call the Sun, or Sol, are considered a subcategory of stars. Dwarf galaxies are a subcategory of galaxies. It’s glaringly inconsistent and suspiciously irrational that dwarf planets aren’t a subcategory of planets. One of the main architects of the demotion was a British astronomer named Brian Marsden who once said to Clyde Tombaugh, the American astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, You may not live to see it, but I will torpedo your planet.” American planetary scientist Mike Brown even claims to have killed Pluto, and has the Twitter handle of “plutokiller. Dr. Brown even once publicly beheaded a Disney doll of Pluto. Clearly, some people have a personal problem with Pluto, not a scientific one.

It’s hardly surprising that reports of voter intimidation at the IAU’s General Assembly in Prague were reported. In fact, one report I’ve verified myself involves an IAU member threatened with the destruction of his academic career in Astronomy were he to vote to keep Pluto a planet. Politics creeps into everything. The Executive Committee of the IAU is far from immune.

Notably, the world-renowned planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto (arriving this July 14th) has said, pithily, “In fact, Pluto, and its cohorts, are planets. They have all the attributes of planets. Let me give you some examples. They have cores. They have geology. They have seasons and atmospheres. They have clouds. They have polar caps in many cases. They have moons. And I can’t think of a single distinguishing characteristic that would set apart Pluto and other things that you’d call a planet, other than its size. So I like to say, a Chihuahua is still a dog.” By the way, some of the latest photos of Pluto from the spacecraft reveal a possible polar ice cap, too!

American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is not a planetary scientist, and turned down a debate on Pluto’s planetary status with Dr. Alan Stern. He did, however, debate a man in a Pluto costume on Late Night with Seth Meyers, where Tyson wrongly stated there are only six solar system moons larger than Pluto. There’s seven, Neil. Get with the program!

At the end of “Faust,” Faust must descend with Mephistopheles/Satan/Hades/Pluto to the Underworld. A deal is a deal. “Faust” is not a shiny, happy, light-hearted opera. There’s nothing dwarflike about this spectacle. It’s truly epic – one of the crown jewels of Western Culture. It’s well worth your time and money to hit the freeways and pray to miss the potholes.

Do yourself a non-dwarf favor, and experience “Faust” while you still can! Tell them Mike sent you!

For more information or to purchase tickets to see “Faust” at the Detroit Opera House, visit http://www.michiganopera.org/2014-2015-season/opera/faust.

Photo by John Grigaitis
Faust is an old man at the start of the opera. Mephistopheles is to the right. (Photo by John Grigaitis)
Photo by John Grigaitis
Marguerite reads a book to some children. (Photo by John Grigaitis)
"Plontonimus" is a Plutonian by Mike Wrathell, a internationally-exhibited artist. Pluto's largest moon, Charon, is to his left, our right.
“Plontonimus” is a Plutonian by Mike Wrathell, a internationally-exhibited artist. Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is to his left, our right.

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