Opening its doors to what is arguably Charles-Francois Gounod’s best-loved opera, the Royal Opera House has hit on a winning formula in its revival of David McVicar’s 2004 production of Faust.
When a dying man sells his soul to the Devil for one final chance to be young and in love, he finds out that his search for pleasure is far more complicated than it first seems.
Bruno Ravella sparks new magic into David McVicar’s production, refreshing the feel of the piece whilst ensuring its original spark is retained. Although the fifth revival of McVicar’s take on the classic, Ravella ensures that the original text is delivered to allow the story is allowed to speak for itself.
Charles Edwards’ set is a spectacle all of its own. In Act I, a blood-soaked Christ, sensually caressed as he’s pulled from his wooden frame, sets the grim and eerie stage. The beginning of Act IV delivers a particularly clever merging of set and actor, balancing the delicate line of friend or foe.
German soprano Mandy Fredrich soars as Marguerite. Taking over from the fever-stricken Irina Lungu, Fredrich’s plane touched down in London only three hours before the curtain rose, yet her performance was impeccable.
Erwin Schrott revels in the role of the devilishly evil Mephistopheles, delivering a deep bass-baritone that resonates through every corner of the vast Royal Opera House. A delightfully cheeky side to this demon makes him all the more irresistible.
Michael Fabiano plays the titular Faust with impressive gusto. Increasingly unlikeable as the piece progresses, Fabiano keeps the bravado and charms his audience despite his character’s faults.
Choral numbers are stunning both visually and in their powerful sound. At the top of Act II, the town scene is a good example of how to effectively use the ensemble, with an injection of energy from the young artists.
Mani Obeya’s revival of Michael Keegan-Dolan’s choreography keeps the oft-dropped ballet in Act V but delivers a sexualised, punchy new kick to the torturous sequence. Although not a total juxtaposition against the opera’s hellish narrative, the shock value in this sexually charged sequence is able to both lighten and darken the mood in equal measure.
Act II’s cabaret section offers some welcome comic relief early on in the mammoth three-and-a-half hour production. This is skilfully hinted at during Act V’s ballet, with recurring themes twisted into a more tasteful but equally obscene routine.
Paule Constable’s lighting is one of the greatest treats in the production, providing a shadowy hue over the towering set, and ensuring a balance between light and dark mirrors the impossible power struggle on stage.
From the outset, this mammoth production delights. Even against the incredible adversity of losing its lead soprano, Faust is a challenging and exciting piece. Ravella’s revival ensures it remains a treasured piece for those lucky enough to see it.
Faust at Royal Opera House until 6 May
Live screening in UK cinemas on 30 April, encore screening 5 May