Gounod: Faust

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Gounod
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Faust
PERFORMER: Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside, Sophie Koch, Della Jones, Matthew Rose; Royal Opera Chorus; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano; dir. Sue Judd (London, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: EMI 631 6119 (

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In Goethe’s original Faust Mephistopheles is defeated by love he can only interpret as lust. Gounod’s librettists Barbier and Carré made a similar mistake, trivialising the opera by reducing Faust’s hunger for life to juvenile randiness.

This Covent Garden performance does a lot to salvage it, both musically and in David McVicar’s consistently clever, vivid staging, drawing on Gounod’s conflicting urges towards theatre and church. The decadent Second Empire and Franco-Prussian war setting, in the sleazy Parisian backstreets of Balzac and Eugene Sue, restores immediacy to the music, while Gothic church architecture underlines the darkness beneath the popular tunes.  

Roberto Alagna depicts Faust’s transition from Gounod-like ancient to cartwheeling young boulevardier and drug-addled Baudelairean decadent with energy and elegant phrasing, despite some forced top notes. Angela Gheorghiu, dressed as Manet’s Folie bergerès barmaid, seems less happy with the Jewel Song but impressive in the dramatic aspects.

Bryn Terfel’s Mephistopheles doesn’t have the traditional boom, but he manages well; and he suggests the constant predatory menace beneath the musketeer panache with a curious dignity. Simon Keenlyside’s Valentin also displays a nasty domineering edge to Sophie Koch’s touching Siebel.

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Della Jones and Matthew Rose make much of Martha and Wagner. Antonio Pappano sometimes confuses energy with speed, but his theatrical vigour banishes any trace of Gallic languor, a thoroughly un-fustian Faust. Michael Scott Rohan