You have to do opera for the love of it. That is how expensive it is.

Tim Kennedy, who leads Buffalo Opera Unlimited, laughs about that.

"I don't know, the first word that comes to mind is addiction," he admits. "I've loved opera since I was a teenager. I don't remember what my first opera was. It was just overwhelming. Every bit of it. Here I was, an African-American teenager growing up in Philadelphia, and it just took me. I absolutely love it. Everything about it. The drama, the music, the staging, the scenery. Everything that goes to make opera."

And everything that makes opera the costly proposition that it is.

Kennedy leads Buffalo Opera Unlimited. It has been rolling since 1985 and generally features younger singers. It operates unpredictably, on a shoestring. As Kennedy says, "We only do opera when we have resources to do it."

The company is ambitious, though, and makes a splash. Kennedy and friends have staged Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah" - praised in The Buffalo News as one of the season's highlights. An updated take on Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte" in 2004, complete with Elvis greaser haircuts, also won bravos.

"Buffalo Opera Unlimited may scrimp on sets, but it never skimps on talent," wrote Harold McNeil, reviewing the production.

Friday and Sunday, Tim Kennedy and his company are presenting Charles Gounod's "Faust" at Rockwell Hall on the Buffalo State College campus. Featuring high-quality local talent as well as an orchestra and chorus, the production will be presented in 19th century style.

The opera was made possible, Kennedy says, thanks to entities such as the Baird and Wendt foundations - and to the wealth of talent Buffalo boasts.

"I've had a good time trying to give an opportunity to young singers to do this, local singers especially," he says. "The talent, the local talent, always amazes me."

"I don't know these people at all. My leads, I never heard of them," he marvels. "They came out for auditions, and the first thing you want to know is, 'Where have you been? Who are you?' I'm amazed at the kind of talent who comes."

"Faust," which premiered in Paris in 1859, is an opera that fascinates Kennedy. The story is most closely associated with the German Romantic poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but it was around before Goethe told it. It tells of an aging professor, Dr. Faust, who yearns to be young again and in love. In return for the fulfillment of his desires, he sells his soul to the devil, Mephistopheles.

Several years ago, Kennedy presented a scaled-back version of "Faust" at the Riviera Theatre, with piano and string quartet. The production at Rockwell Hall is more thoroughly realized.

Sets are designed by David Butler, who works frequently with the Irish Classical Theatre, the African-American Cultural Center and other local theaters. On his Facebook page, Butler shares tantalizing shots of his sets for "Faust."

"Wait till you see how the demons appear!" Butler tells his friends.

Kennedy says that Butler has enhanced the opera with touches of video.

One juncture, he mentions, especially cried out for that: when Faust is able to seduce Marguerite, a beautiful girl.

The way the opera is written, he says, the action skips directly from Faust beholding Marguerite for the first time to Marguerite distressed and pregnant.

"I said, 'David, that's a weakness in the libretto. They don't show what happened. They just show her moaning and groaning,' " he says.

Butler, he says, replied, "Maybe we can do something about that."

The rest will have to be a surprise. All Kennedy will say, tantalizingly, is, that it has a Buffalo touch. "I understand they've been to Delaware Park, to the rose garden."

To emphasize the story's humanity, Kennedy's Mephistopheles appears not with horns and a tail, but as an urbane, attractive gentleman. The role is sung by Nicholas Kilkenny, a Buffalo State College graduate who is beginning studies at the Eastman School of Music.

"Gounod had a real different take on the devil. That's what was so interesting and so exciting to learn. I think Gounod's devil is a gentleman," Kilkenny says.

"Faust" stars Jeffrey Thompson as Faust. His younger self is sung by Salvatore Atti, a tenor who sang with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in Marvin Hamlisch's last installment of "Star Search." The production also features Laura Noack, as Marguerite, and James Wright, featured in Nickel City Opera's production of "Amahl and the Night Visitors."

"It's just wonderful dealing with young people who are really anxious about having a career as opera singers," Kennedy says.

"We have no divas or divos."

Opera Preview


Presented by Opera Unlimited at?8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday?in Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State?College, 1300 Elmwood Ave. Tickets are $30; $25 for seniors and students. Call 878-3005.