Erwin Schrott, Michael Fabiano, Irina Lungu, Stéphane Degout, Marta Fontanals-Simmons; Royal Opera House Orchestra/Dan Ettinger; dir. David McVicar (London, 2019)
Opus Arte DVD: OA1330D; Blu-ray: OABD7285D 196 mins
Set around the period of the work’s premiere (1859), David McVicar’s Royal Opera House production has returned regularly ever since it opened in 2004: an earlier DVD manifestation perpetuates its initial cast, but this more recent version (April 2019) is equally good.
Though founded on a tenuous connection between the morally compromised philosopher depicted by the composer and his librettists, and Gounod himself, the staging retains its theatrical vitality: the supernatural effects are skilfully and often amusingly done, while under revival director Bruno Ravella the show provides constant and often thought-provoking visual stimulation. The inclusion of the Walpurgis Night scene replete with ballet – startlingly perverse in McVicar’s concept – is extremely worthwhile. The whole show has been intelligently filmed by Rhodri Huw and there are some valuable extras.
This is a top-flight cast. In a sensitive, intelligent and finely articulated interpretation, Michael Fabiano humanises the doddering old philosopher tired of dusty old books and all too willing to sell his soul for a return to youth and love. In her skilfully sung and moving account of Marguerite, Russian soprano Irina Lungu epitomises the young, innocent working-class girl Faust seduces and then abandons.
Stealing a number of scenes is Erwin Schrott, swaggering around in what is genuinely a tour de force as a darkly humorous devil, even if his French is not invariably clear. Stéphane Degout makes a sterling Valentin and Marta Fontanals-Simmons an impassioned Siébel.
Conductor Dan Ettinger’s approach is dynamic yet supple, pointing up the alternate punch and delicacy of Gounod’s admirable scoring.