- July 7, 2019
Berlioz finally decided that this dark work was neither opera nor choral work and settled on légende dramatique. Glyndebourne, fearless in their approach to staging, have once again stepped up to the plate with a strikingly stylish and clear presentation of Goethe’s dramatic poem that follows the disillusioned Faust on his decent to damnation.
But why is it such a problem to stage this beautifull score? Well of course there are the obvious problems of demons, troops, changes of location… But for me the problem lies more in the balance of roles, plenty to do for Faust of course and Mephistopholes, but poor Marguerite is afforded too little and Brander barely gets a word in. Sad as both Julie Boulliane and Ashley Riches are very fine indeed. The chorus of course get plenty to do and as ever they are on top form, rich, precise and filled with drama. And clevery arranging them above the stark black box set as two tiers of intimidating masked demons works brilliantly, with the male members descending from time to time to appear as soldiers. The set is for the most part wonderfully effective and beautifully lit. I did however tire of the trucked on doors which added little, and the laboured symbolism of a mountain of weighty tomes to indicate Faust’s academic life the same.
Allan Clayton’s Faust is a lost soul from the start, lumbering around the stage in what appears to be bewilderment and for me lacking a little passion or lust as he descends into hell, and his seduction of Marguerite seemed pretty passionless too – but oh what a voice, whilst the physical presence might have lacked that passion the voice certainly made up for it, soaringly beautiful.
In contrast Christopher Purves brings Mephistophles to life with an air of deeply sinister joy, darkly seductive, gruesomely evil and yet fascinatingly attractive – how could Faust have resisted this truly devilish force? And the voice is not only beautiful but packed with a precision that made it easy for me to abandon reading supertitles and cope with the language by engaging my schoolboy French. A simply stunning performance on every level.
In the final ballet sequence the black stage is filled with vibrant green demons, lurid and lewd, whipping the action into a frenzied finale.
Once again a provocative production from fearless Glyndebourne, an excellent telling of the tale for the most part, beautifully staged and sung and if there are faults then maybe the composer is to blame for simply not giving some of the characters enough to do. Image © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith