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Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Robert Schumann, like most cultivated Germans of his day, held in awe the Faust legend as told by Goethe. Its rhetoric of scientific quest for truth, its message of good triumphing over seductive evil, and its appeal for eternal love defined a romantic ideal for which Schumann, throughout his short career, tried to find a musical counterpart. Not surprisingly, he set the epic to music. For nine years the sickly Schumann was occupied with a straightforward adaptation of the final scene, in which the transfigured Faust reunites with a penitent Gretchen, the lover he'd seduced and abandoned. (The same scene is the source for the second half of Mahler's monumental Symphony no. 8.) Shortly after the premiere of Scenes From Goethe's Faust--in 1849, on the centennial of Goethe's birth--Schumann appended the first two parts, tension-filled scenes depicting Gretchen torn between propriety and sensuality and Faust gathering inner strength to meet a doom imposed by Mephistopheles. The music here is the closest Schumann came to making obvious theatrical flourishes, but its crazy-quilt feel hints at why he never really tried his hand at serious opera. Ravinia's music director, Christoph Eschenbach, has recruited a most interesting baritone to sing the title role in this weekend's rare revival of the work. Young hunky Dane Bo Skovhus has a powerful voice and a stage presence to match--sort of a European Thomas Hampson. But will he be convincing in the role of a nerdy intellectual who spurns love for knowledge? Soprano Rebecca Evans is Gretchen, bass-baritone Alan Held plays Mephistopheles, and tenor Peter Schreier doubles as kind souls. Sunday, 7 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 728-4642.

TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Bo Skovhus.

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