Faust – Gounod – Royal Opera House
Gounod’s Faust is an opera in five Acts to a French libretto by Barbier & Carre, which debuted in Paris in 1859.
The production by David McVicar, first seen in 2004, is in its fifth revival and it still works. The complexities of the opera are not always easy, but somehow McVicar’s production shows the right blend of dark-light and tragedy-comedy. Some of the production is indeed very dark, particularly the cathedral scene and the nonchalant departure of Satan down to his hell at the end of the opera, as well as the ballet dance scene in which the pregnant Marguerite is thoroughly abused before the ballet dancers themselves are all raped. On its own really bad stuff, but McVicar always intersperses the action with real comedy, usually channelled through Mephistopheles, who in the dance scene turns up wearing a dress.
This fifth revival did not have an auspicious start. Netrebko had cancelled and her replacement, Damrau, cancelled because of illness. Her replacement, the Russian, Irina Lungu, also suddenly fell ill on the opening night and eventually the role of Marguerite was sung by the German soprano, Mandy Fredrich. However, by the second performance Lungu was well enough to sing her role, which she did with great poise and vocal prowess. She seemed to fit neatly into the role between the other two principals: the substantial tenor voice of Michael Fabiano and the grand bass baritone of Erwin Schrott singing Mephistopheles. Fabiano’s voice seems to have gained an extra dimension in the last few years. Not only does it have real substance, but he can mix it with pianissimo and falsetto when required, which he did beautifully in his Act 3 aria ‘Salut demeure………’.
Schrott had that wonderful mix of comedy and real menace following in the footsteps of other great Mephistopheles, such as Jon Tomlinson and Bryn Terfel. He always held his own, but never quite reached the devil depths that his two illustrious predecessors managed. You knew he was a bad man, but somehow he performed with a twinkle in his eye.
Other roles were also well sung, particularly the Wagner of German Alcantara, who is a Jette Parker Young Artist, as well as the voices of the aristocratic Valentine sung by the Frenchman Stephane Degout and the Siebel of the Spanish mezzo, Marta Fontanals-Simmons.
Special mention too to a wonderful chorus, who were on top form, together with the cabaret in the second Act.
The orchestra was conducted by Dan Ettinger. He proceeded with real care for the singers, but often at the expense of invigorating the music and action. His interpretation was at a slow pace – quite often too slow.
In the end, the opera shone through and the glory of the music was enjoyed by all.