Opera Australia brings out David McVicar’s production of Faust for the third season – second time in Sydney. Revived by Shane Placentino the audience has so much to see within the production. There are bound to be new details and interpretations to spot if you saw it the first time around. With deep pitched sets there is plenty of room for multiple layers of action. The lighting design by Paule Constable keeps a constant darkened theme where any number of ghouls and satanist ballet dancers may be hiding. Superb costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel add some colour and stark contrast in many places.
Illusions abound when you think you know what you see and suddenly find it’s not at all what was expected includes us in the deceit Faust himself is experiencing.
In the title role from Italy is Ivan Magrì who has spent the majority of his career in Europe and South America. A beautiful tone and great strength, Magrì was held back a little due to illness on opening night and tentative in pitching his high notes. Give him a few days and he’s bound to be back to true form. It didn’t stop the audience from showing him their appreciation.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes features as the nonchalant Mephistopheles – it’s all a game to him. With the most costume changes in the show, he stands bold amongst the crowd in clothes from his favourite eras of time – he’s been around for a while, after all – and even in a dress at one point where, instead of camping it up, remains unchanged with the view he can wear whatever the hell he likes. The voice sounded stronger than the opening of Anna Bolena and the way in which he enjoyed toying with mortals around him was fun.
Marguerite was played by Russian soprano Irina Lungu. Her opening scenes showed a slow moving, fragile and conservative character with a deep underlying sadness that matched the storyline. Her voice is strong and constant though it would have been lovely to add more light, joyfulness and excitement to the Jewel song, the one point in the story where there is potential to broaden the haracter’s scope of emotions.
In the supporting roles Anna Dowsley, ever the crowd favourite, plays the lanky, lovesick Siébel. Her voice just gets better and better. Michael Honeyman played Marguerite’s soldier brother Valentin. Although the more challenging parts to his arias seemed a little strained this is the best dramatic acting we’ve seen from him in a long time. There were wonderful moments where he truly flowed with the drama – lovely to see. Long time Opera Australia Principal Artist Dominica Matthews revelled in her character role of the voluptuous, opportunist neighbour Marthe. Even the devil wasn’t sure if he could handle her. Richard Anderson was in strong voice – let’s hope he can keep his resilience up as both he and Dowsley are playing roles in Faust and Don Giovanni which will keep them stationed at the Opera House most nights of the week.
The overall production was outstanding. Sex appeal with a harsh, dangerous feel to it; magic which draws the chorus unwillingly into a twitching, convulsing dance for the Golden Calf song and additional dance numbers to make use of a the large cast of dancers. Also interesting to see the reverse set of the theatre (suddenly the audience is on the stage looking out to the auditorium) being the place where Mephistopheles feels most at home to stage his Walpurgis night, a celebration of queens and courtesans. Black angel wings, white angel wings, this stage direction makes connections all throughout the opera from one act to the next, probably too many for this writer to recognise in one sitting.
Highly recommended viewing, Faust runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until Wednesday 11 March 2020.
Faust – Ivan Magri
Marguerite – Irina Lungu
Méphistopheles – Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Valentin – Michael Honeyman
Siébel – Anna Dowsley
Marthe – Dominica Matthews
Wagner – Richard Anderson
Conductor – Lorenzo Passerini