Marking the start of the English National Opera (ENO)’s exciting new season this production is directed by award-winning director Des McAnuff, and conducted by the charismatic Edward Gardner. The opera is based loosely on Goethe’s Faust, Part I with a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre and is an entirely new production for the ENO.
With a running time just over three hours and two intervals, you definitely get your money’s worth. This is a show that will appeal to both opera fanatics and those less confident with the form. The music is dramatic and the lyrical tunes will grab your attention. And the narrative is unusually easy to follow!
It is rare that I particularly notice an orchestra during an operatic performance, but in this case I did. They play with great vigour and energy, perhaps thanks to Gardner’s diverse experience conducting both West End bands and large operatic orchestras.
I cannot fault the singing either, Toby Spence leads the cast as the scientist Faust, a tiring tenor role that requires real talent; several of his arias were breathtakingly beautiful. There are only a few more soloists, I think Anna Grevelius as feeble Siebel and Iain Paterson as demonic Mephistopheles stand out.
The set is perhaps a little nonsensical, but I found it easy to overlook this as the other effects on stage are wonderful. Throughout the performance a giant projection of Marguerite’s face is shown, reminding us constantly of Faust’s leading lady and of the important love story that holds the narrative together. This face is particularly unnerving when it occasionally moves or blinks at you.