Gounod’s Faust is the sort of opera that gives the genre a bad name. Its libretto is based on a play that takes Part 1 of Goethe’s original mystical morality tale and encrusts it with dowdy Victoriana and shifts the focus to the tortures inflicted on poor Marguerite whose eventual redemption hardly seems
a fair consolation in today’s secular world; the lovely music coats a bitter pill that takes quite an effort to swallow.
Des McAnuff’s production attempts to restore some of the original’s dramatic gravitas by shifting the opening scene to the Los Alamos laboratories with Faust as a tortured atomic scientist. The arresting imagery during the overture gave an initial frisson so I looked forward to further clever analogies but apart from the obvious effects during the Walpurgisnacht they failed to materialise so the concept proved to be only half-baked. There were other fine visual moments such as the giant project images of Marguerite’s face but the unit set of Faust’s laboratory didn’t seem to be used to its full potential and my attention wandered.
Musically however, one couldn’t ask for more with a splendid cast of singing actors doing their best to sell the piece. Kaufmann is simply magnificent with his trademark burnished tone ramping up the contrast of his heroic sound with his caddish persona. Poplavskaya was born to play Marguerite with her girlish look and tragic demeanour. Some may quibble with her slight vocal imperfections but her performance is all of a piece. The Wagnerian Pape has a ball playing Mephistopheles but doesn’t descend into moustache-twirling camp and delivers a show-stopping Ronde du Veau d’or. The supporting cast is fine with a standout Valentin and Nézet-Séguin shapes the whole with idiomatic elegance and coaxes refined playing from the orchestra. I watched the Blu-ray
so the sound and image were of exemplary quality.