Theatregoers get metaphysical with Gilliam's Faust
We were also delighted that there were some “opera virgins”, surely tempted by seeing what feats of imagination Mr Gilliam could come up with! Our regular Opera reviewer, Simon Thomas helped us hand out tickets as he was so keen on seeing the show a second time, having given it a 5 star review first time around!
Well Simon seemed to be proved right! In truth Berlioz’s "légende dramatique”, as it is called, has never made either a great oratorio or a great opera always sitting somewhere uncomfortably in the middle. This is an ideal work for the imagination of Terry Gilliam who found a totally new dramatic structure by setting it across German history from the late 19th century to the rise of the Third Reich. Audacious indeed, brilliant definitely but also very thought provoking!
So the Hungarian March serving as a backdrop to the outbreak of the First World War, the Faust and Marguerite love scene happened while Kristallnacht is taking place outside the window and Faust and Mephistopheles' ride to the abyss is in motorbike and sidecar! The final scene where in this production where Marguerite has been shipped off to a concentration camp and the chorus are actually singing to a pile of dead bodies of which hers is the uppermost has caused some controversy but I have to say I found it incredibly moving!
Gilliam’s vision was well served by Hildegard Bechhtler’s wonderful sets which took a similar journey through the German art movement from the pastoral romanticism of the mid 19th century to Reifenstahl's films of the 1936 Olympics. There was also great video projection and design from Finn Ross.
The ENO chorus and orchestra were on top form under Edward Gardner. Peter Hoare (in a spiky red wig) was an excellent Faust, although he slightly struggled with one or two high notes in the love music (the fault of which I place with Mr Berlioz who in all his operas will give the tenor a few unnecessary cruel moments), Christine Rice a luscious warm toned Margurite and Christopher Purves superb as Mephistopheles. Both chorus and principals must be hugely commended as they threw themselves into Gilliam’s vision with great gusto!
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