Faust - Gounod - Sydney Opera House Feb 2001
What a spectacular show the Sydney holiday crowds were treated to! Gounod's Faust is a long and truly 'grand' opera and Ian Judge's production takes us on the ill-fated journey of the Devil in an original and stylish manner. Vinson Cole opened this production 4 years ago and it is hard to imagine anyone else doing it better. He is aloof yet the committed hedonist. He seems to use head and chest registers interchangeably, sometimes 'Italianate', sometimes more French-sounding with his totally reliable tenor line. He portrays the philosophical yet avid suitor in marvellous contrast to Siebel (Donna-Maree Dunlop), the youthful and doomed admirer of Marguerite (Patricia Racette). Yet almost everyone is doomed in this opera as I lost count of the corpses by the curtain.
Bruce Martin's booming Mefisto was the highlight of the evening and as confident 'master-of-ceremonies' he gave the most memorable of stage performances. The surprise of the night was Anthony Schroeder's Valentin. He sang with a crisp, high, accurate baritone and after a slightly nervous launch, sang a magnificent show-stopping 'Avant de quitter ces lieux'. His martial scenes and final stop-start death scene were also moving and creditable.
Like Cole, Patricia Racette has sung great roles at the Met in New York and her many qualities shone in Faust. Like most great divas, she warmed up and following a good first half with more-than-adequate Jewel Song, she developed into a power house of vocal stamina at the same time as her persona declined through despair, madness and death. She interacted wonderfully with her stage colleagues and was totally believable in this rather unbelievable conservative Catholic role.
Emmanuel Plasson's conducting was intense and particular from what I could glean at the end of Row F. He had the orchestra sounding in top form with tempi which were sympathetic to my ear. The wonderful waltzes, choruses (the final one taken in the auditorium boxes) and rather odd introductory piece give plenty of scope for the pit to show their wares. The violin is as exposed as it ever gets at the end of 'Salut demeur et chaste' - the splendid singing being matched with the highest quality orchestral playing.
The chorus was used by Ian Judge to great effect as bright faces in the gloom (Nigel Levings' classy job lighting this show). They were also fast movers in the ballroom scene. Standing stock still with wet umbrellas seemed a little odd at the end but the sound of rain before the final applause broke the dreadful tension of the night's calamitous carnage on stage.
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