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2004, ROH London, Faust, review of Jane Garrett

Faust by Charles-Francois Gounod.

The CG production.

By Jane Garratt

The tale of Faust, who makes a pact with the Devil and lives to regret it, has lasted through the centuries because we all recognize the longings that it portrays. Faust, for me, is about the power of Evil to corrupt ordinary people by working on their desires.

This production by David McVicar was extreme in all aspects, the staging and costumes were all on a grand scale, the action was frank to the point of being shocking. The cast was exceptionally strong individually and worked beautifully together throughout the development of the piece.

McVicar’s characterization showed the seductiveness of the Devil (Mephistopheles) in the person of Bryn Terfel. He was charming, obliging, and corrupted everything he touched, from Roberto Alagna’s Faust longing to make love to Marguerite, to Siebel’s joy in giving Marguerite flowers – the Devil withers them. As the relationship between Faust and Mephistopheles develops Faust begins to be as sexually attracted to the Devil as he is to Marguerite. The scenes where Mephistopheles sings a love song to Faust, and the scene where he seduces Faust while dressed as a woman were unforgettable both because of the context but also because of the exceptional quality of Bryn’s voice.

FaustBrynSK Simon Keenlyside played Marguerite’s brother Valentin, a small but pivotal role in the action. He starts out as a shining figure of a brave soldier, who loves his sister, and his aria “O sainte medaille” was a highlight of the entire evening. His voice is full and true and contains wonderful harmonics. But Valentin curses his sister and disowns her when she becomes pregnant by Faust. He dies in an unnecessary duel that he provokes with Faust, and refuses to repent and forgive his sister while he is dying. His soul thus becomes forfeit to the Devil, and his rejection of her sends Marguerite mad. During the Walpurgis night scenes when Mephistopheles “entertains” Faust, the soul of Valentin is resurrected, to be tormented again by demons. Simon did not say or sing a word during this episode, but no-one who saw it will forget his acting.

Alagna and Gheorghiu were a wonderful couple of lovers. Alagna’s voice is not, in my opinion, world class, but he brings such energy to his roles that he’s a joy to watch. Gheorghiu has a really superb voice and excellent acting skills, which were used to great effect in the mad scene. Her voice compares very favourably with Victoria de Los Angeles who sang the role on the classic EMI recording.

This production has many critics who feel that it went too much to the extreme, turning the story into a caricature of the original story. I found it exhilarating, moving and shocking. I wouldn’t have missed it.

JG May 2005

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