“Faust” is a wild November storm of an opera, containing a world of contrasts both musically and dramatically. It is epic and powerful in its themes and staging, and has lost none of its bewitching magic since it premièred on the Opera House stage last year. Little has changed since then but this is a good thing as it was near enough to perfection.
Heaven and hell collide in Gounod’s opera and like many magnificent productions there is no comfort zone, no respite from a world of extremes. Religion and the conflict between good and evil are the subjects that form the beating heart of this opera.
The extremes are reflected in every aspect of this production: in the set design, the lighting states, the constant sea change of performers on stage. Highly renowned director Michal Znaniecki has created a work of inexhaustible variety, a wild fantasy of colour, movement and originality.
As Faust himself, Nutthaporn Thammathi is jaded and tired with living, angrily renouncing God and selling his soul to the Devil, Méphistophélès. Méphistophélès himself is performed by dramatic Armenian baritone Vazgen Gazaryan, who sweeps across the stage in a frenzy of energy and devilish charm.
Calling on the Devil is never going to result in a happy-ever-after as Faust then chases soaring highs followed by the eventual crashing low. Pleasure must be paid for with the ultimate price.
But the future seems so distant for Faust when he conjures up Méphistophélès that the fall into eternal damnation is a price worth paying. Méphistophélès’ world seems such an enchanting place. Yet with monstrous greed and no remorse, tomorrow will bring tragedy and pain, not just for Faust but for all those touched by him.
The destructive waves set in motion by Méphistophélès and Faust sweep away everyone in their path, especially the delicate Marguerite, performed by Gabriella Létay Kiss, a fragile and innocent victim of the dark world.
And like a magnificent epic opera it contains an orchestral score to send shivers down the spine. The music is both sinister and exotic, extremely dark and then at times pure and celestial, all led by conductor Oliver von Dohnányi.
The intensity of Gounod’s romantic musical score, so rich in duets, trios and quartets, sweeps through “Faust” with an unrestrained force. The notes are almost tangible; they could be plucked from the chandelier like enchanting but twisted stars.
The score rises and falls in great waves, bringing with it contrasting emotions expertly interspersed with a fabric of deeply religious church music. The arterial reds and moody blues of Gounod’s music are often reflected in the lighting states themselves; the colours of danger especially when combined.
It is no coincidence that emergency vehicles use red and blue flashing lights, as these colours are ingrained in our senses as warning signals, whether we are conscious of this or not. The contrasts work so brilliantly as hell and heaven, sin and purity, love and betrayal constantly fight for attention as the action relentlessly progresses.
With magnificent set designs by Luigi Scoglio, this is a production that absolutely crackles with raw energy and devilish magic. The ever-changing set is starkly effective from the opening scene where Faust appears alone on the echoing stage, but throughout the production the set maximises colour, cinematic projection and stunning visual backdrops.
The opera also incorporates the dramatic choreography of Marianna Venekei, which adds to the dynamism and ever-changing flux of mood. The many dance sequences enhance this epic as the performers move with wild abandon in Bacchus Disco or balletic grace in Walgpurgis Night where Méphistophélès leads Faust towards the finale.
There is hardly a static moment; even as Marguerite prays in the church her nightmare continues as Méphistophélès appears in the background, with its magnificent stained-glass window and giant crucifix. All the crucifixes in the world will not save her from the madness that Méphistophélès casts upon her.
“Faust” essentially showcases the dichotomy of heaven and hell, which become further and further apart as we reach the finale. The love theme is slightly less than believable. Perhaps the pairing of Thammathi and Létay Kiss simply does not work; the tenderness and passion between the two is lacking in electricity.
Thammathi is excellent as the puppet of Méphistophélès, appearing hesitant and lost as his new “business partner” offers him the dark world.
Létay Kiss has the voice and passionate acting that truly shine in this opera. Her tangible heartbreak and descent into madness is at once beautiful and sensational as she commands absolute power over her soprano voice in every last note.
She steals the show as Marguerite. Her ascent into heaven is fitting for such fragility, as though she is too delicate for this cruel world.
(There are two casts,
so check the website for details)
Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI
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