It’s a long flight to London’s Royal Opera House but save your dollars and instead visit His Majesty’s Theatre this month to see David McVicar’s famous production of Faust. The 2004 production of Gounod’s opera is presented by WA Opera and Opera Conference with an outstanding cast and creative team. In fact after seeing the show in London I’d suggest McVicar’s extravagant production packs more punch here where every detail is visible as it almost overflows the stage of our intimate Theatre.
McVicar’s irreverent but chilling take on a man’s bargain with the devil is set in the Latin Quarter of Paris in 1870 laden with gothic trappings. In the opening scene Mephistopheles arrives through a trapdoor, coughing as he waves away the sulphurous fumes. Scenes of hedonistic revelry unfold as Faust, an elderly bourgeois gentleman, exchanges his soul for promises of youth and love.
McVicar takes us to Paris’ famous Cabaret L’Enfer with dancing Can-can girls and to Saint-Severin church where Faust plays the organ and candles are scattered everywhere a la Phantom of the Opera. The production (revived by director Bruno Ravella) is dripping with eye candy from the decadent costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and splendid lighting by Paule Constable to Charles Edwards’ ingenious set design which frames each scene within theatre stalls from which we watch Mephistopheles direct events.
And it is Mephistopheles’ show. On opening night Teddy Tahu Rhodes gave the best performance I’ve seen from him, insolent and imposing whether dressed in drag or a dinner suit. His bass baritone alternated between seductive caress and terrifying stentorian authority as he doomed the love of Faust and Marguerite.
Natalie Aroyan captured Marguerite’s purity with delightful bubbliness, reaching creamy top notes with ease in the Jewel Song. In a production high on visual effects her endlessly beautiful soprano and Rhodes’ golden-hued bass baritone brought the attention back to the music.
American tenor Patrick O’Halloran transformed convincingly from tottering professor to young libertine and ultimately a heroin addict burdened with regret. His voice sounded tired though, the strain thinly masked by vibrato. Baritone Samuel Dundas (the Count in Marriage of Figaro earlier this year) gave a richly coloured portrayal of Marguerite’s brother Valentin. Fiona Campbell gave an impressive performance in a pants role as a frumpy Siebel with a voice of musky sweetness.
The WA Symphony Orchestra conducted by WA Opera artistic director Brad Cohen provided secure support to the action and the full-voiced WA Opera Chorus moved with slick choreography (Shane Placentino), creating rowdy crowd scenes with support from an excellent dance troupe and actors. This is another unmissable show from WA Opera this year, one you may need to see more than once to absorb all the details.
This review copyright The West Australian 2015.