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Faust (Opera North - Salford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Isolated from his community by his intellectual arrogance Faust (Peter Auty) strikes a bargain with the demon Mephistopheles (James Creeswell). But demons cheat and the price of the bargain is paid by Marguerite (Juanita Lascarro), the innocent lover of Faust.

The process of updating a classic is intended to give it relevance to a contemporary audience. But co-directors Ran Arthur Braun and Rob Kearley bring confusion as well as clarity with their modern day version. Making Faust a sharp-suited banker provides a clear explanation of his isolation and self-loathing. But the co-directors tie themselves in knots trying to avoid equating Marguerite’s infanticide, in the original text, with her abortion, in their revision, and bring in so many extra elements (politicians and right to life groups) that the production becomes unnecessarily complex. Mind you, the Soldiers’ Chorus works great as a political rally.

The sets and visual designs by Ran Arthur Braun are likewise only partially successful. Imaginatively Arthur Braun does not use conventional props but projects backgrounds onto shifting screens. Sometimes this works - providing a vivid cityscape and an antiseptic clinic. But the more abstract designs lack emotional connection and the frequent changes are distracting and set a restless mood.

Thankfully though, Charles Gonod’s score is remarkably varied combining sweeping romanticism with a devotional tone which more than makes up for the lack of emotion elsewhere.

James Creeswell’s Mephistopheles has an animalistic charisma stalking the stage as if marking his territory. His interaction with Sarah Pring’s pragmatic Marthe is not only comedic it acts as a counterpoint to the desperate longing of Faust and Marguerite. At one time directors re-titled the opera using the female character’s name and, based on the tortured performance by Juanita Lascarro, you can see their point. Lascarro’s fragile Marguerite is the heartbreaking centre of this flawed but fascinating production.

- Dave Cunningham 


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