Gounod's Faust Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre September 16 (until Monday) Charles Gounod's adaptation of Goethe's Faust was among the most popular operas in the 19th century and continues to be a big hit; it has been performed more than 3,000 times in Paris alone. Focusing on the romance between Faust, the man who famously sold his soul to the devil, and the beautiful maiden Marguerite, the French composer created a treasure trove of melodies. A Hong Kong production (with some scenes cut) opened on Thursday, with about 140 performers. Playing the lead role of Faust was Zhang Jianyi, a mainland-born tenor and now a performer with New York's prestigious Metropolitan Opera. He had the most solid performance of the night, singing with a golden tone, although it was debatable if he was able to convey Faust's internal turmoil fully. The other singers paled in comparison. Sonn Hye-soo's Mephistopheles lacked the comic wit needed to pull off a character that is supposed to be a clever version of the devil. Deborah Wai Kapohe's Marguerite appeared too earthy to make one think of a virtuous, innocent maiden, but she did sing and act competently. Still, the last scene had all three principals perform with commitment to good effect. Chenye Yuan, playing Marguerite's brother Valentin, had a sturdy but occasionally bland voice. Joelle Fleury was mildly comic as Siebel, as a female singer portraying a young boy in love with Marguerite. Conductor David Stern evoked a fleshy, fluid sound from the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. Unfortunately, the chorus, the Opera Society of Hong Kong under chorus aster Raymond Fu, suffered from untidy ensemble singing. Veteran opera producer/director Lo King-man tried to update Faust and set the story in the first world war, as was implied by some of the costumes. But the minimal set design, a two-storey scaffold of beams and planks, suggested something more like a desolate slum in some third-world country. The acrobats and colourful costumes in the Easter fair scene were garishly exciting but did not save the overall impression. The most creative part in Lo's production appeared in the Soldier's Chorus in the fourth act, when a group of veterans appeared on stage both physically and spiritually wrecked, and then sang a song glorifying war in the name of patriotism. The irony was bleak and bitter, although some audience members did not seem to get the message. In the end, this production of Faust was a modest, entertaining and largely professional success.