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Bryn Terfel is the devil incarnate
on 20 September 2010
I've received this DVD today and have just watched it.
As an avid Royal Opera fan (I fly from Johannesburg to London once a year to go watch operas there) I expected a thought provoking, well performed and satisfying performance. I was not disappointed. Director David McVicar is known for his originality (anyone who has seen his Salome at the ROH will attest), some people don't like it, others adore it. This production takes place on the stage of an opera house (which seems to be that of the Royal Opera), literally and figuratively. The entire opera is presented as a dream of the composer.
The undoubted star is Bryn Terfel, who is a demonic but also comical Mephistopheles. He towers over all the other singers. In the fourth act he manages to instill terror as he taunts Marguerite.
Angela Gheorghiu is a beautiful Marguerite, and one can almost understand that a man would want to sell his soul to the devil for her. Her voice is strong and tender when necessary. David McVicar portrays her as going mad, and she does utter a chilling lunatic laugh when Valentin is killed.
Roberto Alagna as Faust acts and sings very well. As the opera progresses the production shows him consumed by the impact that his pact with the devil has had on Marguerite.
A highlight of the opera is the Ballet. The choreography is disturbing. It shows the just killed Valentin arriving in the afterlife, bewildered. Faust and Marguerite appear also, and this drives the real Faust to desperation. Marguerite, in the ballet, is portrayed pregnant, which I found very apt considering that in the next scene we find her condemned to death for killing the child she had with Faust. Meanwhile the women taunt Faust. Bryn Terfel is dressed as a woman in this scene. He looks truly horrible, highlighting, I think, the horror that Goethe tried to portray, which might be lost in today's times when we are not really frightened by the devil anymore.
The choir and orchestra play up to the high standard of the Royal Opera.
A final thought: the production shows the great new tradition of the Royal Opera to elevate the psychological aspects of opera and to delve into the hitherto unexplored aspects of the opera, making it a much more real life experience. Producer David McVicar shows the opera as a journey through the Paris of the 19th century, from a backwater to a happening place with cabarets and beautiful dancing girls. I found it thoroughly invigorating.