State Opera South Australia entranced the audience with its opening performance of Charles Gounod’s Faust at the Adelaide Festival Theatre. In its beautifully sumptuous revival of Sir David McVicar’s production, State Opera breathed new life and fresh depravity into this wickedly irresistible opera. Who in heaven (or hell) would prefer the football?
Gounod’s nineteenth century opera is one of many interpretations of the classic Faustian deal with the devil. Though one of the most commonly performed operas in the world, it has been thirty-three years since Faust and Mephistopheles made their bargain in a State Opera production.
The curtain opens on our anti-hero Faust, an aging scholar grown bitter and resentful through his fruitless pursuit of knowledge. He craves the vitality and desires of youth… and beautiful mistresses. Mephistopheles appears in a theatrical puff of smoke, offering Faust all this and more: the love of the chaste maiden, Marguerite. Faust’s motives turn impure as Mephistopheles works his evil magic on him and his fellow townspeople.
Faust is bursting with desires and deviance. It boasts ethereal music, an organ solo, theatrics and acrobatics, tongue-in-cheek comedy, and a hauntingly beautiful ballet sequence. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra performed flawlessly under Conductor, Kynan Johns. The chorus, dancers, and supernumeraries created a dazzling on-stage display.
The superbly talented cast included Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Mephistopheles, James Egglestone as Faust, and Kate Ladner as Marguerite – all of whom embraced their roles with abandon. Rhodes hypnotised the audience in addition to the chorus during his Le veau d’or est toujours debout. Ladner’s jewel song, Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir, was both beautiful and bittersweet. Honourable mention also goes to Cherie Boogaart, as the lovelorn Siebel.
Brief notes of reality were injected into the performance, however. Michael Honeyman, portraying Marguerite’s brother Valentin, was woefully unwell and unable to sing on Saturday. While Honeyman acted on stage, Jeremy Tatchell sang the part of Valentin in a resounding baritone. Egglestone struggled to find a particularly high note during his Salut! Demeure chaste et pure, though recovered quickly. The audience indicated their appreciation of both performers during their standing ovation.
Faust was an entirely sensuous affair offering not only musical, but also visual excellence. With an ever-changing, lavish and detailed set, State Opera brought nineteenth century France alive – with the occasional twist, including casino lights spelling “Cabaret L’Enfer” during the decadent second act. Set Designer Charles Edwards and Costume Designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel deserve a chorus of praise.
Gounod’s Faust recounts the timeless tale with which we can all sympathise (just a little), while State Opera has created a production that no one will be able to resist.
Reviewed by Nicola Woolford
Venue: Festival Theatre
Season: 25, 27 and 29 August 2015
Bookings: Oficial BASS website