Photo – Lisa Tomasetti
American tenor Michael Fabiano is truly blessed in spite of his sneaky little arrangement with the devil. Granted, it is actually 'Doctor Faust' and not Fabiano responsible for the sordid goings-on in Gounod's five act opera Faust, although given the singers completely convincing portrayal of the eponymous lead, it is almost impossible to distinguish between them. With French conductor Guillaume Tourniaire leading the orchestra and under the revival direction of Bruno Ravella, Opera Australia's current offering of 'Faust' is one of those happy occasions where everything falls perfectly into place.
The opera tells the story of an aging scholar who comes to an 'agreement' with the devil in exchange for the return of his youth. With his previous good looks faithfully restored, Faust sets out to seduce the pure and naive Marguerite, who as a result of the affair becomes pregnant and consequently murders her child after being shunned by society. A sad and sorry story it is true and yet one that we can certainly all connect to on some level. Faust's decision to make a pact with the devil is selfishly motivated and irreversible, and with consequences that could never have been imagined. Whilst the drama unfolded I couldn't help but think of the two Australians currently facing the firing squad in Indonesia as a result of a very bad decision; inviting the devil to dinner is bound to end badly.
The success of this production lies in the combination of great singing and dancing on an attractive looking set that manages to feel strangely contemporary thanks to the costume, set and lighting design. The singers are all wonderful, although Fabiano is the star. In a recent interview with Limelight Magazine, the tenor stated that he is 'a sap for tone and colour of voice', and glorious tone and colour is exactly what he gives us. With a resonant and lyrical quality that is even from top to bottom, Fabiano is thrilling with his caressing pianissimos and vibrant fortissimos that are never harsh. He is also a convincing actor, but in a pleasingly understated way. Nicole Car, in the role of Faust's unfortunate love-object, sings with a warm tone that has a particularly impressive upper register, and her acting is sincere and believable. Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Mephistopholes is visually magnetic with a stature and presence befitting of satan. His singing is at its best when he backs away from the volume, which allows for more interesting tonal colours than those present during the fortissimo singing. Giorgio Caoduro as Valentin shows warmth of vocal tone and musicality, whilst Anna Dowsley as Siebel charms the audience with her beautiful lyrical mezzo voice and boyish acting.
The chorus singing in this production is also splendid and the 'soldiers chorus' from Act 4, with tenor David Lewis standing front centre stage holding his rifle proudly and defiantly above his head, is particularly rousing. The orchestral playing is tight-knit and energetic and the conductor is ever considerate in maintaining a comfortable volume level for his singers. The dancers and extras are a visual feast and happily take the audience on a seductively sinful roller-coaster ride with their hellish and mocking eroticism.
This production has so much to offer with its wonderful singing and dancing but it is much more than that – it is a journey into the depths of the human soul and an exploration of the opposing forces of good and evil. It is about sinfulness and morality, God and Satan, heaven and hell, purity and corruption; this old tale will impress you with its contemporary relevance and have you asking many questions as you leave the theatre.
Opera Australia presents
Directed by David McVicar
Venue: Sydney Opera House
Dates: 17 February – 13 March 2015
Bookings: www.opera.org.au | 02 9318 8200