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ND explores Faustian themes with events

Claire Reising | Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The themes of salvation, faith and knowledge will be examined on campus during the next two weeks as this year’s academic theme “Faust at Notre Dame” is explored through an opera, a play and a conference.

According to Arts and Letters Associate Dean Stuart Greene, German Professor Jan Hagens suggested making Faust this year’s academic theme because 2008 is the 200th anniversary of Part I of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play of the same name.

Faustian themes can transcend academic disciplines, such as literature, science and religion Greene said.

“The issues of our day are increasingly complex, and it makes sense to cross boundaries,” he said. “The issues are complex and rich enough that we should be looking at a play like this from multiple perspectives.”

In addition to performances of Goethe’s play, events of the “Faust at Notre Dame” initiative center on Christopher Marlowe’s play, ‘Doctor Faustus.’

In both Goethe’s and Marlowe’s versions of the Faust story, the title character desires to rise above human knowledge, and, after turning to magic, forfeits his soul to the Devil in exchange for the Devil’s service during his life.

Arts and Letters Dean Mark Roche said this plot uses themes relevant to the Notre Dame community.

“The works ask questions that are a superb fit for a university that seeks to explore religious and ultimate questions, such as, is God forgiving, and is salvation possible for a sinner?” he said.

This year is not the University’s first endeavor to incorporate a variety of academic subjects into a yearlong event, mathematics professor and co-chair of “Faust at Notre Dame” Alex Hahn said.

“The idea was to bring many academic components together under one event that would have interdisciplinary themes,” Hahn said.

In conjunction with “Faust at Notre Dame,” Mark Beudert, the director of the opera ‘Faust 1859,’ has worked for the past year on reconstructing this Opera Notre Dame production, which will be shown April 18-20.

He said that this opera will contain elements from Charles Gounod’s original version and has not been heard since it was produced in 1859.

Beudert chose to use components of this version to more accurately represent Gounod’s original idea and to include the dialogue Gounod wrote.

“Performances of the original Faust were said to be more intimate in scale than the grand opera version, with dialogue that enhanced the ‘human’ dimensions of the story, a more complete development of the plot and an alternate and, we think, more compelling sequence of scenes,” he said.

According to Beudert, the company had to reconstruct the dialogue in English and edit the score to create Opera Notre Dame’s version.

Only two of the 56 cast members are professional actors. Beudert said it was a challenge to cast undergraduates in an opera that professionals usually perform.

The Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) department is also celebrating the Faust theme with a rendition of Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus.”

Although Marlowe wrote this play more than 400 years ago, this production strives to make Faust relevant to a modern audience, Christine Sopczynski, FTT outreach specialist said. This process includes projecting modern images on a screen after acts end to reinforce the plot and the themes, she said.

Junior Kathleen Hession, the assistant director of the play, said the production relies only on costumes and technological effects to modernize the play and uses a combination of the two versions of Marlowe’s text. She added the performance will feature Faust during different time periods.

“We travel through the various ages that Faust has been popular in literature and come at the end to the twenty-first century,” she said.

Toward the end of the play, this version will connect Faust to today’s world by portraying the “Second Life” Internet virtual world, which allows participants to “do all the things they’re not able to do in reality,” she said.

In addition to opera and theater performances, FTT professors Anton Juan and Mark Pilkinton, and English professor Jesse Lander will host a seminar entitled “Doctor Faustus: Selling One’s Soul to the Devil,” discussing issues in the text and performance of the play today at 9:30 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m.