HE DID IT FOR THE DEVIL : Ken Cazan Directs a Radical, Minimalist ‘Faust,’ Heavy on Sexuality and Sensuality

<i> Chris Pasles covers music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

The legend of a man who sells his soul to the devil for personal gain began in the Middle Ages, and the theme remains relevant.

“With all the politicians we have selling out, with all the guys on Wall Street selling out, with so many people in the arts selling out, and the NEA selling out right now, it’s just a fascinating thing, and it’s a very universal story,” says Ken Cazan, who is directing Gounod’s “Faust” for Opera Pacific. The production opens Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

Cazan, 36, sees the plot of “Faust” as reflecting Goethe’s “personal journey to maintain his idealism and yet also gain a certain amount of worldliness so that he’s not naive or stupid.”

He describes his own approach to the opera as “totally minimalist. I really want to tell the story of this young man being torn between his sensual desires and needs and what he knows is right and wrong. This is a very sexual, sensual production.”


The set consists of “two very rough-hewn circles” on which, and around which, the action takes place. It is modeled on a 1977 production at Michigan Opera Theatre, which Opera Pacific general director David DiChiera also runs.

The circles, says Cazan, are “large symbolic pieces (we use) to set the tone and the atmosphere of the piece, and just tell Goethe’s story as best we can to Gounod’s music and words.

“Gounod wrote very popular music for his time. He wrote what we would consider, I think, movie music to a great extent, because when you hear some of Mephistopheles’ themes, they’re all in the bass and very mysterious and wonderful. People today might consider it hokey, but I think it’s quite wonderful in a playful way.”

Cazan expects his production--his first venture with Opera Pacific--to be “controversial.” But he defends his approach, saying “opera needs to move forward.


“We’re almost to the year 2000, and we’re doing pieces that were written 200 years ago. They’re wonderful pieces; I love them dearly, but I’ve taken some really radical approaches, because I think artists need to be challenged to rise to new musical levels and vocal levels, quite honestly, and physical levels, because people can stay home and watch a sitcom or go to the movies and see something as entertaining.”

But entertaining audiences is different from condescending to them.

“I will never talk down to an audience,” Cazan says. “Never. Good theater--and this is theater; it is musical drama, but it is drama--makes people think and inspires them emotionally.

“I don’t worry about how sophisticated or unsophisticated they are. They’re never going to get sophisticated, or they’re never going to learn to experiment in their lives if they’re constantly condescended to and shown the same old thing.”