A romping good Faust

David McVicar’s Faust was back on the Royal Opera stage, and in rather good form. Gothic backdrops, a scene in the Cabaret L’Enfer, the Les Mis-style tricolore-waving crowd number, and Méphistophélès rocking up in a black diamanté-encrusted ball gown, all added to the fun. Throw in a few acrobatic shirtless demons for Méphistophélès’ retinue from the standard McVicar toolbox – as well as his characteristic concern for acting details, nicely recreated by revival director Bruno Ravella – and a long evening wasn’t quite as long as expected.

Maurizio Benini whipped some bite into the orchestral sound, which cut effectively through the Gounod treacle, but he still allowed some space for sentiment, most notably in the long Act 3 love scene. That and the succeeding madness were when Alexia Voulgaridou was at her most effective. She had a lovely, warm tone, especially in her middle voice, but her top was weaker, and that hadn’t quite brought off the glitter of the Jewel Song. She was a ‘contained’ actress, but rose to the drama of later acts as things heated up after the interval, with the emphatic closing trio putting the pressure back on her voice again.

Opposite her there was no shortage of stentorian power from Joseph Calleja as Faust. Just as things were feeling a bit all-on-a-same-level, both for volume and emotion, he spun out a beautifully controlled diminuendo during Salut demeure, chaste et pure that suddenly made one listen afresh. It was thrilling singing, perfectly suited to the gutsy mid-nineteenth century sound.

Bryn Terfel was sounding rather dry of voice and got into a bit of difficulty towards the end of the first half, but rallied remarkably in the penultimate acts to regain some of his customary vocal bloom. As ever, the mischievous comedy, undercut with a frisson of threat, made his Méphistophélès the lynchpin of the drama. Keenlyside sang with a dangerous mixture of beautiful tone and threatening power, which made the public showdown with Marguerite very believable, as well as grippingly painful to watch. The distress of Renata Pokupić’s touching and pure-toned Siébel had a similar impact.

There is little of any subtlety in Gounod’s telling of this much-told story, but with the right performance it carries you along, which happily was the case on Monday night.

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Kaufmann’s Winterreise

Curtain Call, Winterreise, Royal Opera House, 6 April 2014: Helmut Deutsch and Jonas Kaufmann

Curtain Call, Winterreise, Royal Opera House, 6 April 2014: Helmut Deutsch and Jonas Kaufmann (set: Act 3, Richard Eyre La Traviata) Blurry iPhone picture!

The long-awaited date arrived: Jonas Kaufmann finally stepped out into the stripped-down Act 3 set from La Traviata, with Helmut Deutsch at the piano, to give a performance of Schubert’s intense song-cycle Winterreise. And it was as remarkable as it was expected to be, more so perhaps than the recent CD issue suggested. Continue reading

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Fabulous Frau

Having attended the Royal Opera’s Die Frau ohne Schatten twice, on Sunday, 23 March and Saturday, 29 March, I’m still at something of a loss to lay out my thoughts. I was captivated by it – Claus Guth’s production, the score and the performance of it – and still find myself going back to reflect on elements of the staging, and calling to mind snippets of the gorgeous orchestral swell of the score. Continue reading

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1840: a year of contrasts

Last night was, originally, to have been La Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden. However, when we got lucky with tickets for the Christian Gerhaher recital at Wigmore Hall, La Fille had to go – well, in fact we moved to last Sunday’s matinee. The contrast between the two was marked, to be sure. It’s a bit difficult to think back on Fille with Gerhaher’s glorious, and resolutely serious, Schumann still fresh in my ears. Continue reading

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A supremely expressive Turandot

Friday saw another outing for the venerable old Turandot. The production clocks up 30 years this year and, however impressively it conjures up the theatrical atmosphere for the first-time viewers, I am reaching my limit with repeat viewings. In the age old debate that pits solid money-spinners against more exploratory or challenging fare, even this reliable old warhorse is starting to wear thin. I’ve been cataloguing my ROH programme collection [well, it's been very rainy out, hasn't it?]. Having only got through the first decade so far, I’ve seen it six times. I could probably restage it if a future revival director drops out – as, I imagine, could most regulars of long standing. Continue reading

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Peter Grimes

David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes was new to ENO in 2009, with some of the same cast as this run, and looking back at my reflections I seem to have been impressed. If I am perhaps a little more reserved on second encounter, four years later, it is still a powerful account of Britten’s pre-eminent work. Continue reading

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Holten’s Don Giovanni

Kasper Holten’s production of Don Giovanni, which opened at Covent Garden last night, would appear to have one eye set on its DVD recording or HD transmission. Equally, it seemed an exercise in bringing some HD clarity to the stage visuals. Whether, ultimately, it functions as an insightful production of the opera is a matter of some debate, but it seems hard to deny that the projected visuals, matched with remarkable technical facility to the moving set, were a tour de force of their kind. Continue reading

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