This performance of Gounod's Faust from the Royal Opera House is nothing short of magnificent. At last for such a great opera, which has been badly served on DVD until now, we have a recording which does the work full justice. The cast is almost perfect and the performance is superb. The production is sheer quality from start to finish, with wonderful sets and costumes and a drama true to the original but with frequent reflections of the present era. This is a fully traditional production which is nevertheless entirely modern in outlook and execution.
The performers are outstanding, vocally fabulous as would be expected, but the great bonus here is that they are all excellent actors and also physically suited to their roles, which is no small consideration in opera. It is an accurate measure of Roberto Alagna's truly great performance that he reminds us that this opera is entitled 'Faust'. So often the eponymous character is overshadowed by Mephistopheles in performances of this work. Not so here, rather this is an almost perfect balance of equals. Bryn Terfel is, as would be expected, magnificent. He is menacing, humourous and subtle in equal measure, fully conveying the insidious evil of his character. One look or sneer from him conveys a world of meaning. Normally he would outshine all other performers in this opera, but not in this company. He is equalled by Alagna and Gheorghiu, both vocally and dramatically.
All the other performers are excellent too, but Simon Keenlyside is outstanding in his role as the war-weary Valentin, brother to Marguerite, and Sophie Koch is truly touching and vocally beautiful as Siebel, Faust's rival for Marguerite's love.
In the Act V ballet, five of the seven sections which Gounod wrote are performed as a brilliant parody of classical ballet. This brings out all the irony of Gounod's lovely ballet music played out as it is in the depths of depravity. The incongruity here is further heightened by Bryn Terfel's costume.
Under Antonio Pappano's direction the orchestra of the Royal Opera House play superbly, bringing out all the beauty, drama and subtlety of Gounod's great score. This is an absolutely classic performance and I doubt that it will be equalled let alone surpassed for many years to come.