Faust: McVicar’s devilish take on classic opera…an opera review by Victor Grynberg

February 13, 2020 by Victor Grynberg
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One of France’s greatest ever composers, Charles Gounod had an immediate hit on his hands when his opera Faust finally premiered in Paris in 1859.

Based on the play Faust et Marguerite written by co-lyricist Michel Carre, it is a reworking of the famous tale of Faust written by Germany’s greatest ever poet Johannes Goethe. The story of a man who sells his soul to the Devil, in order to be made youthful once more and enjoy again the pleasures he had as a young man.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Méphistophélès in Opera Australia’s production of Faust at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo credit: Prudence Upton

With a beautiful score and the super hit of The Soldier’s Chorus it remained a popular item in the repertoire for over a hundred years. However, it fell out of fashion in the second half of the 20th Century and it took a new production for Covent Garden in 2004  by acclaimed Scottish Director Sir David McVicar (also responsible for the current Don Giovanni at the Opera House) to bring the opera back to the top. This production (first seen here 5 years ago) has been revived in style by Shane Placentino.

It is a dark Gothic tale of how Mephistopheles, a role seemingly made for the always impressive Teddy Tahu Rhodes convinces an ageing Faust, Italian tenor Ivan Magri, making a welcome return to Australia, to sell his soul to the devil.

Rhodes is an excellent operatic actor and he certainly stuns the audience when he appears in a long black dress complete with a diamond tiara.

Magri is given some beautiful solos which he sings in a very smooth manner.

It’s the integrity of this excellent production that entrances the audience keen to see Faust’s fate.

Victor Grynberg

The young woman who becomes Faust’s reward, Marguerite, was sung in fine voice by Russian soprano Irina Lungu, who maintained her previously heard high standard. Lungu has an innate ability to act convincingly this demanding role to the current high standards of OA – she had the audience in her hands.

Valentin, the soldier who defends the honour of his sister Marguerite, was sung by Michael Honeyman in a performance that was quite outstanding.

A strong support cast included my favourite  Anna Dowsley as Marguerite’s friend Siebel, Dominica Matthews as Marthe and the ever consistent Richard Anderson as Wagner.

Perhaps the greatest credit for the night belongs to the outstanding choir whose rendition of The Soldiers’ Chorus was the best I’ve ever heard. It’s a shame the music rolls on at the end of this number so that there is no opportunity for the audience to give the rapturous applause it was wanting to give. As with “ Nessun Dorma “ in “ Turandot”, I think a small change to the score to allow a stop is well in order.

The Parisian operagoers always wanted a nice ballet scene and in one of his reworkings of Faust, Gounod added a number, that was certainly very well executed by the corps.

The Orchestra had a long and difficult score to play but ably led by Lorenzo Passerini, sounded enthusiastic and tuneful.

This is a Grand Opera, needing a huge team on stage and backstage to pull it off. Yet again another triumph for OA, with resounding applause by the enthusiastic audience – a fitting tribute to its success.

4.5 stars

FAUST by Charles Gounod

Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House

February 10, 2020

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