Review: The Hartford Symphony Orchestra: A Faust Symphony

R. Ward Duffy

R. Ward Duffy

by Mark G. Auerbach

Unusual classical music programming at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra enticed me down I-91, to see how the tale of Faust, the guy who sold his soul to Mephistopheles, the devil, for youth, intellect, and a tryst with Gretchen, according to the Goethe classic, might be played out against the backdrop of Franz Liszt’s Faust Symphony. .

Hartford’s music director, Carolyn Kuan, who incidentally attended Northfield Mount Hermon and Smith College, likes to add innovative elements to the Hartford Symphony line-up line-up, from acrobats to actors; from chefs cooking up culinary delights to dogs onstage. So, she brought WNPR radio host and writer Colin McEnroe and TheaterWorks director Eric Ort together to take a new look at Liszt’s Faust Symphony. Actors Crystal Dickinson and R. Ward Duffy explored the motivations of Goethe’s characters in a series of contemporary vignettes by McEnroe. Ort, along with TheaterWorks  designer Brian Prather, soundscape designer Jonathan McNicol, and lighting designer Joseph Gates complimented the music and performances with a strong theatricality, both in terms of production elements and staging. A really strong programming idea, played out quite nicely in the Bushnell’s intimate Belding Theatre.

Crystal Dickinson

Crystal Dickinson

Lizst’s Faust Symphony is a stunning piece of music, well-conducted by Maestra Kuan and beautifully performed by the Hartford Symphony. McEnroe’s script took the concept of selling one’s soul to the devil, and rewrote it for contemporary characters–a funds manager who works the art of the deal, an athlete who justifies a performance enhancement drug; a woman who committed a petty crime to gain favor with her circle of friends; a scientist who fudges a drug trial for more funding.  One vignette which hit close to home was that of a politician who has difficulty buying into the ruthless behavior of a new president. Actors Crystal Dickinson and R. Ward Duffy, excellently staged by Ort, brought a lot of depth to these short interludes. Maestra Kuan found the right breaks in the music to interpolate McEnroe’s script and Ort’s staging. It was all seamless.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra has some interesting upcoming programs, including a performance of Holst’s The Planets April 7-9; an all-Russian program on May 12-14; and the Playing With Dogs Pops on May 20. Fo details on their classical and pops performances at The Bushnell and the upcoming summer Talcott Mountain Music Festival under the stars in Simsbury: www.hartfordsymphony.org.


The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Carolyn kuan, Music Director, performing A Faust Symphony..Music by Franz Liszt. Script by Colin McEnroe. Directed by Eric Ort. Scenic design by Brian Prather. Soundscape design by  Jonathan McNicol. Lghting design by Joseph Gates. Featuring Crystal Dickinson and R. Ward Duffy.March 10-12. Belding Theatre at The Bushnell, Hartford, CT. For details: 860-987-5900 or www.hartfordsymphony.org.

Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.

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