The English National Opera’s 2010/11 season kicks off with Des McAnuff’s new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust. The opera uses the classic German tale to focus on Faust’s infatuation with Marguerite, and in the principal roles Toby Spence and Melody Moore do not disappoint vocally.
But for all-round performance, both are eclipsed by Iain Paterson’s white suited, cane swinging Mephistopheles. Excepting the low notes that are a struggle, his voice possesses just as much power and ease as his swaggering across the stage. Spence feels comparatively wooden in Paterson’s presence, while Moore never takes us to the point where we forget that she is putting on a performance. Both seem too intent on delving into their own characters to interact effectively with each other, with the consequence that Act Three, which they dominate, tends to drag.
The set, which sees walkways and staircases surround a bare central stage, provides flexibility so that Faust's laboratory can become an inn full of people in an instant. Unfortunately, however, this choice leads to an over-reliance on projections of clouds, faces, roses and flames to change both scene and mood, which only helps to make this thematically problematic opera feel aimless.
Edward Gardner’s conducting is exemplary, Benedict Nelson and Anna Grevelius excel in the roles of Valentin and Siebel, while the chorus contribute some enjoyable singing and dancing. This Faust may not be flawless, but it remains a good opener to a season that will surely take off.
Until 16 October (nine performances).Tickets: 0871 911 02000 or from the ENO website
By Samuel Smith