A first with Faust

This opera thing looks like becoming a bit of a habit. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing, and it certainly does seem to be a very cultured thing to do – I must becoming a bit more civilised in my old age. Further, there seems to be no shortage of performances in my neck of the woods, so I guess it’s all good.

Gounod’s Faust, by Melbourne Opera did seem to be a good first experience with a more traditional opera. You may remember that my first (and only other) opera experience was Victorian Opera’s How to Kill Your Husband – lots of fun, but I’d assume not exactly traditional. Faust on the other hand is a classic, a great traditional opera with a rich history of performance in Australia. This particular production was in fact performed to commemorate 150 years since the birth of Dame Nellie Melba, one of the greatest Marguerites of all time.

My good friend Roxy kindly made the arrangements for the evening, as part of her prolonged and delightful birthday celebrations. We began the evening with pleasant introductions to new friends and a quick drink and nibble at Collins Quarter, after which we eagerly made our way to the Athenaeum Theatre.

The storyline to Faust is dark, essentially involving a pact with the devil and compromised virtue. I’d imagine the opera could be interpreted very heavily. In this instance though, I wouldn’t say that the treatment was overly somber. In fact, in the earlier scenes it came across at times as quite operetta-like, most particularly when the chorus became involved. The stage was small, and full with costumed characters and colourful performances.

The second half of the show, scenes four and five became decidedly less frivolous, as the story moved away from romance and focused more squarely on corruption. It was a shame that there was a small technical issue, specifically, an organ malfunction (of all things) that took a little away from the intensity, but the actors picked the scene back up and regathered the audience quickly and without too much damage having been done. We all had a little giggle in the meantime.

Snuck a peak at the pit

The performances by David Rogers-Smith (Faust), Danielle Calder (Marguerite), Steven Gallop (Mephistopholes) and Phillip Calcagno (Valentin) were without exception impressive. I was particularly taken with Valentin (Calcagno) who, despite only making a couple of short appearances, came across as intensely passionate in his protection of his sister. His voice was spectacular. Mephistopholes (Gallop) was appropriately maniacal, his voice and his portrayal menacing, with just the right amount of charm to beguile. Margueritte (Calder) was endearing and her soprano quite superb (to my untrained ear at least).

Somewhat surprisingly, there were moments of humour in this opera, and it was entertaining throughout. Because I’m such a know-nothing about these things (at this stage anyway) I’m interested to see this production again, by another company, to see if it is always interpreted similarly or whether at times it is produced more dramatically by others.

Once again, a great night out (many thanks Roxy). If you’re interested, Faust is running until 26 June, and you can find details at Melbourne Opera’s website.

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