Faust, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2011

Covent Garden has a talent for staging nineteenth century operas in sumptuous productions with excellent singers, and this is another fine example.

Gounod’s Faust, with its libretto by Barbier and Carré based on Carré’s earlier play Faust et Marguerite, is loosely fashioned on Goethe’s great work, though it’s hardly Goethe. David McVicar’s production, with its sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, all superbly lit by Paule Constable, are wonderfully evocative of the period when this 1859 opera was created. It may be high-brow French pantomime, but many of the scenes are very effective, and Gounod produces some excellent orchestration with a lovely melodic line.

After Dmitri Hvorostovsky sang Avant de quitter ces lieux in Act II the second-night audience roared their applause, and we were treated to glorious singing by an all-star cast. After an unconvincing start as a venerable academic, Vittorio Grigolo sang his heart out as the youthfully revived Faust, and literally bounced onto the stage at the end to take curtain calls. His elegant Marguerite, more debutante than village maiden in this opera, was stylishly portrayed and lyrically sung by Angela Gheorghiu. Add to this the beautiful voice of Michèle Losier in the trouser role of Siebel, and the cast gave a wonderful rendition of the vocal roles, superbly grounded by René Pape as the ever present Mephistopheles, his voice and stage presence giving huge depth to the whole performance.

Conducting by Evelino Pidò gave Gounod’s music just what it needs, and if the stage action is a bit melodramatic . . . well that’s what this opera is, but the whole performance is visually appealing and vocally superb.

The production continues until October 10, though with cast changes for Marguerite and Valentin in some later performances — for details click here.

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