Libretto: Jules Barbier and Michel Carré
Score: Charles Gounod
Navigating the human condition, to the eventual judgements of heaven’s light and hell’s fire, Faust holds no prisoners in its sumptuously decadent retelling of the infamous man who sold his soul for wealth, power, and vitally in this iteration, a woman. The Royal Opera House presents its 2019 recording of Faust as the latest in their online catalogue, revelling in Jules Barbier and Michel Carré’s colossal libretto set to the mesmeric and insane score, courtesy of Charles Gounod.
As a man driven in his lust for flesh, that of the young Marguerite, Michael Fabiano’s Faust comes across as more hollow than charismatic, with a tremendous amount of the character’s foppish tendencies reliant on sharing the stage with equally powerful singers. That is until Fabiano can perform efficacious arias in the latter half, though once more his strongest moments are when he is able to bounce off another, such as the breath-taking climax as Marguerite’s soul is delivered from damnation.
Irina Lungu’s descent into madness as Marguerite has an awkward midsection in Lungu’s range, where her capabilities lie in extremes. Wholesome and virtuous or broken and ‘tainted’, she seems incapable of a balanced transition between the two, and her performance, when at its peak, is as dramatically exaggerated as opera can achieve, but there’s rarely a soft moment during Faust.
It is extravagant, animated, and decadent and one would follow Erwin Schrott’s Méphistophélès into the gaping maws of hell, as he quite literally smashes every note. A trickster, Schrott playfully takes his stand on the Royal Opera House stage during a triumphantly blasphemous Le Veau d’Or. Schrott’s baritone, dipping into bass, is as Faustian in capabilities as to be expected, without stressing his range as he climbs or slithers down octaves.
A nightmarish danse macabre, the infusion of extensive dance routines could stretch the runtime of an already lavishly extravagant opera, but Faust avoids bloating, weaving the movement so seamlessly into the narrative, it enhances the surrounding chorus and themes. With the exceptional camerawork, moments become tangible, forcing the watcher into regions often unseen from across the stage. Grim, unearthly, and monstrous visions of splendour surround Faust as memories are roused from their grave as mere playthings for the ballerinas to tease and torment, all captured in tight angles, with focus on the grotesque make-up or facial expression. Dining on beauty, the pace of the orchestra matches wits with the structure of the movement, the two goading one another into bombastic chaos, never slipping in quality or ability – Un, Deux et Trois makes for an exceptional way to begin the final sequence.
The Royal Opera House Orchestra swoops amidst the styles and forms of genres, permeating burlesque showmanship, cacophonies of classical arias and even the occasional metal ripples to reinforce Faust’s feckless self-determination. Led by Dan Ettinger, the sharper notes from the woodwind sections are well taut among the soft scurries from the orchestra pit.
Luxuriantly embracing its shadowy nature, Faust too often turns its sights towards dancing with the devil – though who can blame them?
Available here to stream