FAUST | London, Royal Opera House

Following its smash hit 1859 premiere, Gounod’s Faust later garnered an unfair reputation for gauche excess and sentimentality. But David McVicar’s bravura 2004 production proves that this opera is more than just a spectacular feast for the carnal and moral senses. McVicar’s direction gives the moral universe of the opera unexpected depth — making Faust (Michael Fabiano) all the more terrifyingly relatable as a result.

We are forced to think less about feminine vanity, or abstract human weakness to temptation, and more about the dreadful class inequality that makes Faust’s deception possible. Who wouldn’t prefer a casket of devilish jewels to a well-intentioned suitor’s wilting flower?

Michael Fabiano’s rich, clarion tones suit his genteel, occasionally naïve Faust, which plays out perfectly against Erwin Schrott’s chimerical Mephistopheles. As Marguerite, Irina Lungu’s delicate and impassioned ‘Ah je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir’ is an emotional highlight. Carole Wilson’s Marthe is an audience favourite, exuding ribald comic energy as she single-handedly bests the devil (the only character to do so) — and between the sheets, to boot!

Gounod’s score is wonderfully complex, and conductor Dan Ettinger brings out both the subtlety and high drama of Gounod’s rich harmonic world, transporting audiences from Paris to the mouth of hell with unsettling ease. On the week that Paris’ Notre-Dame erupted in flames, Gounod’s opera — a meditation on spiritual destruction amidst national discontent —seems far from indulgent. It feels necessary.

Make your deal with the devil until 6 May 2019.

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