French tenor Benjamin Bernheim will soon be making his U.S. debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago, singing the title role in Gounod’s Faust. I am thrilled that Benjamin was willing to take some time to talk to me about the new production, his take on the Faust legend, and his love of opera.
You will soon be making your U.S. debut on one of the great stages of the country. Does that add any pressure?
The history of this house is legendary and singing this title role after many great tenors like Jussi Bjoerling, Neil Schicoff and Piotr Beczala is a great honor that the director of the Chicago Lyric is giving me.
Tell me about your interpretation of the Faust legend. The work inspires interesting questions, such as what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to get something you desire. Have you tapped into anything from your past that helps you connect with the character on the page?
I think it touches the artist I am more than my personal history. As a performer and a singer, I spend my time working and imagining how I can be a better version of myself. Faust is given the chance (or not) to do the same thing all over again. Ask most opera singers that are 60 or 70 years old what they would do if they could be 20 years old again; would they really do another job? Or would they do the same but better?
This sounds like a very exciting new production by artist John Frame and director Kevin Newbury. Kevin is known for using a lot of modern technology in his productions. Tell me about some of the technology used in this production. Is there anything that is particularly challenging or fun to work with?
It is a very exciting new production and to be honest I have never participated in such a special project. The fact that John Frame was present for most of the rehearsals while we were defending his universe on stage is incredible. The use of technology could sound dangerous at first but actually it is used to help us singers to tell the story. For what I have been able to see it is a magical production that invites the audience to take a journey. I hope the audience will join us in this great adventure.
Where does the role lie in your vocal range? Is it comfortable? Is it on either the high or low end?
Faust allows me to explore my entire vocal range. It goes quite low during recitatives but the rest is a really comfortable lyric tenor role that sits quite in the middle of my vocal range.
What touches me is to be part of a big team that brings the audience on a journey of exploration in their imagination, through the magic of what we try to create on stage.
Looking at your upcoming and previous performances, I see a lot of Italian roles. Being French, do you feel a different connection to French roles like Faust, something more visceral?
I have the feeling that in French I have a bigger palette of colors to offer musically and for the characters that I portray, but I also always work hard on German/Italian and Russian roles so that I can perform them at the same level.
Do you have a favorite moment in Faust?
For me the magical moment musically is Marguerite’s garden scene in the 3rd act. When Faust seduces Marguerite with the help Mephistophélès, it is an incredible moment of intimacy but also we hear one of Gounod’s best composition.
Are you enjoying your free time in Chicago? Is it your first time to the city?
It is my first time in Chicago and I am enjoying it very much so far. I am waiting until the performances begin to have more time to discover and enjoy the city.
To finish, I’d like to ask a question I ask everyone: what is it about opera that touches your soul?
Opera is quite a unique form of art that allows soloists, chorus singers, musicians in the orchestra pit and a staging and technical team to tell a story. What touches me is to be part of a big team that brings the audience on a journey of exploration in their imagination, through the magic of what we try to create on stage. Having the opportunity to reach the audience touches my soul.