Wednesday, 22 September 2010


21/9/10, ENO

Notes written at the time and transcribed two months later...

The Gounod version, directed by Des McAnuff, better known apparently for his musicals. His experience with Broadway shows certainly taught him something tyro opera directors who started in the theatre often can't handle, namely the chorus and how to get them moving together and (especially) how to get them on and off.

The interpretation was questionable. Things have been updated to the mid-20th century and the Age of the Bomb. Old Faust (Toby Spence) is a jaded atomic scientist, apparently. The flashback to his youth takes us to World War One and soldiers in those funny French helmets. They returned from the war in a terrible state (as you did after WW1) but that made a bit of a nonsense of their jolly drinking song.

There were awkward moments in the staging too. He didn't seem to know what to do with Margarita after the witches' sabbath. She stood at the back while Faust and Mephistopheles (or their doubles) ran up and down the spiral staircases at either side of the set more or less endlessly.

Margarita (Melody Moore) was in a clumping blue dress and brown shoes and short hair. She was a big girl: I'd like to hear her in Wagner. She wasn't quite convincing here, for all her power and rich tone.

Mephistopheles (Iain Paterson) was supposedly suffering from the aftermath of a chest infection but it wasn't evident.

Acts 1 and 2 went swiftly. Act 3 dragged for me, though it started well with a Faust solo aria, very affecting. Margarita's music is less immediately appealing. The closing trio brings the hairs up on your head. The closing chorus is noisy.

I thought we'd seen it before with Willard White as Mephistopheles but it must have been the Berlioz version. This one concentrates on the love story: passionate stuff, except it's all a lie because he knows he's not for real.

The brother comes back, finds his sister's pregnant, fights the duel and dies cursing his sister despite the chorus urging him to repent so that he will go to heaven.

There was a spectacular neon cross at one point for Margarita's salvation. But she drowns the baby in the font.

It is long.

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