Gounod’s Faust returns to Covent Garden in the fifth revival of David McVicar’s production since its debut in 2004.
In this lascivious, haunting romp, an aged philosopher signs away his soul to Satan (Mephistopheles) so he can shag his way around 1870s Paris with his youth restored, destroying lives, and his own sanity, as he goes.
If the bowels of hell yawned open to reveal an eternity with the heavenly Erwin Schrott, there would be a queue around the block. Indeed, his enigmatic, mischievous turn as Mephistopheles is the real soul of this production, serving brash, beefy bass for days. It’s such a shame that his opposite number, Michael Fabiano’s Faust, gives him little in return. Fabiano is underwhelming as the titular anti-hero. Pleasing at first, but increasingly bland, with competent singing that starts to struggle when any power or colour is required.
Thankfully, Mandy Fredrich is pure, vivacious and compelling as Marguerite, the object of Faust’s desire. In a dramatic twist, she landed in London a mere two hours before curtain up, to replace the indisposed Irina Lungu, who replaced the indisposed Diana Damrau (are you keeping up?).
The production is a decadent, devilish delight, from the heady streets of Paris teeming with lusty soldiers, to a raucous, glittering cabaret and majestic, sacred chapels. Finally we arrive at hell itself, where a sickening but perversely thrilling ballet sends an elderly couple rushing from the auditorium. It doesn’t sit comfortably in the post Me Too era — women are confined to maiden, mother, crone archetypes who make easy targets for their misogynist counterparts — but it all adds to the air of engrossing decay and disgust.
It’s well worth signing up for a dance with this devil. Blasphemy, Can Can and duels, oh my!
Faust, Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD. Tickets £24-£285, until 6 May 2019. Faust is shown in UK cinemas on 30 April 2019 with an encore screening on 5 May 2019. The production will be broadcast to cinemas around the world.