Faust at the Royal Opera House
French composer Charles Gounod’s opera Faust was written in 1859 and takes as its story the 16th century German tale of Doctor Faustus who trades his soul with the devil in exchange for a renewal of his youth and a life of pleasures. Faust is determined to seduce the innocent Marguerite despite the terrible consequences for her. In opera you really just get one chance in life and have to take the fallout forever – in this case, eternal damnation.
The big star of this production is bass-baritone Bryn Terfel who plays the devil, Mephistopheles. It’s a big, swaggering part full of touches of danger and a taste for debauchery. Terfel fill the stage with his considerable presence, at one point revealing himself as an impressive drag queen. Sonya Yoncheva as Marguerite is especially outstanding in an excellent cast – her Jewel Song, when the character expresses sheer girlish joy as she tries on jewels, unaware that they are a devilish plot towards her downfall, is movingly clear and sweet. Joseph Calleja plays Faust, perhaps truly in love with Marguerite, but seeing at last that her soul cannot be seduced away from her.
This production is set in 1870s Paris, allowing for touches of revolutionary rabbles and risqué cabaret. The dancers get to do some gyrating and bad-ass ballet as their performance descends to orgy. The action takes place in and around an oppressive cathedral, an apt setting for the trading of souls and prayers.
Gounod’s Faust is a beautiful opera, rich of layers of harmonies and famous melodies. The ROH orchestra are world class, adjusting to the singers when needed, and filling the theatre with spine tingling precision.
It’s easy to see why some people get heavily into opera and go a lot – opera is highly immersive and overwhelming, and delves deep into aspects of the human condition. It’s rather like being a cultural adrenalin junkie.
Faust is at the Royal Opera House from 4th to 25th April 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.