Evelino Pidò invokes the heavenly and the hellish in Gounod’s Faust

24/09/2011

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Gounod, Faust: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Evelino Pidò (conductor). 18.9.2011 (CC)

CAST

Vittorio Grigolo                 Faust
René Pape                        Méphistophélès
Angela Gheorghiu             Marguérite
Dmitri Hvorostovsky          Valentin
Michèle Losier                   Siebel
Daniel Grice                      Wagner
Carole Wilson                   Marthe Schwerlein

 

PRODUCTION

David McVicar                    Original Director
Lee Blakeley                      Revival Director
Charles Edwards               Set designs
Brigitte Reiffenstuel           Costume designs
Paule Constable                 Lighting designs
Michael Keegan Dolan        Choreography
Daphne Strothmann          Revival choreography

 

My colleague Evan Dickerson reviewed a 2006 performance of David McVicar’s production of Gounod’s Faust:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2006/Jul-Dec06/faust1509.htm

 Then, as in the present run, the part of Marguérite was taken by Angela Ghiorghiu. Here, though, the Faust was Vittorio Grigolo (he has previously sung the role in Valencia; his debut with Covent Garden occurred in 2010 with Chevalier Des Grieux (Manon). As an old man, Grigolo seemed to deliberately adopt a bleaty tone to convey age; the transformation to youth revealed a stronger, more confident mode of delivery. Grigolo launched the duet “Ah mes plaisirs” lustily, but he was no match musically for the superb René Pape as Méphistophélès. Pape, in addition to superb stage presence, has a huge voice; he has taken the role of Wotan – Siegfried – for the Berlin State Opera and La Scala, Milan, which should give some indication as to the size of his voice. Yet it is sublimely focused, too. As with the character he portrayed, control was all; his “Le veau d’or” left one in no doubt of this. Vocal staccato is perfectly controlled.

Grigolo seemed to gain in confidence as the performance progressed, hitting his peak somewhere in the second act and maintaining it from there on. There was some rapt singing in “Salut! Demeure chaste et pure”. It would be interesting to hear if he ceases to need the run-up in further performances in the current series.

It was good to hear Angela Ghiorghiu on form. She is a woman playing a girl, of course, and it is a tribute to report that her voice was almost girlish. Her agile Jewel Song (“Ah, je ris de me voir”) revealed an affecting portrayal of the role, one that was to peak in the opera’s final pages in combination with Grigolo. Perhaps her finest scene occurred in the fourth act, however, when, alone in church, she prays, tormented by demons. This is the most interior music of the opera, and Ghioghiu positively shone.

Gounod’s Faust: Vittorio Grilgolo as Faust; Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite (c) Catherine Ashmore

 

Dmitri Hvorostovsky took the role of Valentin, emitting a great, golden stream of sound. Like Pape, Hvorostovsky has a huge stage presence. The Canadian Michèle Losier as Siebel, making her ROH debut, made the most of her arias. (She will appear as Dorabella Così at Covent Garden and reprise Siebel at the Met.) Carole Wilson, an experienced British mezzo, was a memorable Marthe Schwertlein, exuding remarkable presence.

Evelino Pidò, whose recordings with Natalie Dessay (Lucie de Lammermoor and La sonnambula) have impressed so much, inspired the Covent Garden orchestra to great things, invoking the heavenly and the hellish with equal relish and, respectively,  sensitivity and infernal energy.

David McVicar’s setting is dark and inventive, yet rarely if ever disturbing – this is, after all, a musico-dramatic as well as musical conjuration of the Devil. The musty atmosphere of Faust’s study is keenly caught, and if Méphistophélès’ smoky arrival hints at the music hall, it is entirely in keeping with the conception. The veiled images of Marguérite conjured up by Méphistophélès are touchingly done, also. Christ crucified was a central image to the set of Act 2 (the desecration of which raised an audible gasp from some members of the audience, one which would presumably delight McVicar).

Pape as Mephistofeles (c)Catherine Ashmore)

McVicar’s famous “Cabaret l’Enfers” is marvellous entertainment (and indeed featured some devilishly tempting dancers), yet McVicar is able to portray a real sense of hope and redemption in the opera’s final pages too.

The Royal Opera Chorus was on top form, and not only in the “big” choruses: the lightness of delivery in the second act was a thing of wonder. A splendid evening of theatre, and a reminder as to the stature of Gounod’s masterpiece.

 

Colin Clarke

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