I have loved opera for as long as I can remember, and Faust was one of my first ones, Carmen or La Boheme I think was my first. I remember seeing this Royal Opera House production when it first aired on TV in 2004 when I was 12 years old, and I liked it a huge deal. Visiting it again, with a lot of it still fresh in my mind, I still enjoyed it, but there were also one or two things that didn't quite do it for me.
I had mixed feelings about David McVicar's direction. McVicar is an innovative director with a style you love or dislike, I personally find his style interesting. He does do a competent job directing this Faust performance, with the duel scene and the final trio standing out and in staging both Salut! Demeure et chaste pure and the Jewel Song are wonderfully understated. And I liked the disturbing choreography of the ballet and the opening scene.
However, the town scenes with Valentin and his friends done in what is seemingly some sort of homage to Les Miserables or something and the part where Mephistopheles takes off his cloak(his best costume as well) and reveals himself in drag are bizarre and feel out of place within the opera. Also the part where Margheurite suddenly laughs after Valentin's death(done as the start of her descent to madness) struck me as odd and made her look somewhat stupid, also for me it ruined the atmosphere of the scene which was brilliantly done up to then.
That said, Faust itself is a wonderful opera. It does have an old-fashioned story but it is an always interesting story, with several effective scenes such as the ballet, the final trio sequence, the Jewel song and the duel. And of course with such gems such as Salut!..., The Jewel Song, Le Veau d'or, the mocking serenade and Valentin's gorgeous aria, Gounod's music is amazing.
The set and costume design can't really be faulted. The video directing is excellent, while all the costumes and sets are wonderful. I also have to give plaudits to the lighting, which helped in giving the scenes such as the ballet much-needed austerity and darkness. The orchestra play with real finesse, and apart from sounding a tad Italinate in spots Antonio Pappano's conducting is excellent. Also on top form is the chorus, who sound absolutely great and blend very well.
The principal performances have moments where they are uneven, but mostly they are very good. The most even comes from Simon Keenlyside, who is a superb Valentin. His warm voice is perfect for the role, and he also gives Valentin some authority. Sophie Koch is a very effective Siebel in both her singing and acting, in fact the only disappointment in regards to her was the over-exaggerated limp.
Roberto Alagna makes for an ideal romantic hero. In the first two acts he does come across as a little strained and shouty, not helped by the cartwheel he is required to do, but after that he picks up significantly. Salut! Demeure et chaste pure is very understated and beautifully sung, and his duet with Gheorghiu is nothing short of sublime.
Angela Gheorghiu's blonde wig I don't think suits her(again my opinion), but she makes for an excellent Margheurite. Not only does she sing absolutely beautifully particularly in the third act, but her handling of both the lyricalism of the love scenes and the horror of Marghurite's madness is surprisingly effective.
While his basso notes do sometimes lack resonance, Bryn Terfel manages to make the imposing demon that is Mephistopheles comical, sinister and seductive and does so with real panache. This is particularly evident in the mocking serenade and the Church scene. He even looks scary.
In conclusion, it is uneven but it is also very enjoyable. 7.5/10 Bethany Cox
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