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Review: Faust at Arts Centre Melbourne

By Anja Bless

As someone who would consider myself more of an Opera novice, I was somewhat nervous on my way to see Faust by Opera Australia at the Arts Centre Melbourne. I was certainly unsure of what to expect from a three hour opera sung in a language I couldn’t understand.

However, I needn’t have worried. Directed by David McVicar, Faust was enthralling, engrossing, and enchanting. With the help of subtitles projected above the stage the audience is never lost for the plot or the funny or tragic words. The story follows neatly the classic narrative of what happens when you do a deal with the Devil.

Faust (Samir Pirgu) desires to return to the glory of youth, so much so that he is willing to sell his soul to Satan, the charming Méphistophélès (Teddy Tahu Rhodes). But the Devil’s influence is not good for Faust as he woos a beautiful Marguerite (Maria Mudryak). It is not long before he betrays her for the temptations of hell and his eventual regret comes too late.

This tale is one of the dangers of lust, envy, lack of forgiveness, and sin. It is also a tale of the importance of compassion, patience, and faith. Pirgu captures beautifully the cynicism, arrogance and remorse of Faust, and his rival, Marguerite’s brother Valentin (Luke Gabbedy), is also a standout. Unfortunately, Tahu Rhodes does not impress the way Satan should, his characterisation was powerful and playful, however his voice did not seem to capture the same majesty. On the other hand, Mudryak as Marguerite did not have the same struggles. Her stunning soprano, shown off in the ‘Jewel Song’ is spectacular, and her depiction of the innocent and cursed Marguerite is both strong and vulnerable.

Faust is certainly theatrical, and the intricacy and scale of its costuming (Brigitte Reiffenstuel) and set (Charles Edwards) only highlights this further. In particular, Edwards’ French terrace towards the end of the first half is perfect for framing the scene, tricking the eye into believing there really could be Marguerite’s home standing there. Likewise, Reiffenstuel’s costuming of the townsfolk and Satan’s followers bring the performance to life.

Perhaps the most memorable scene, in spite it being an opera, was one where there was barely any singing at all. The visit to hell and a lavish royal feast is culminated in a ballet which gradually turns nastier and nastier, eventually devolving into what can only be described as an orgy. The choreography by Michael Keegan-Dolan capturing the naughtiness and evil that is hell, and the fine line between, is mesmerising.

Nonetheless, when it came to the singing the stirring trio of ‘Anges purs, anges radieux’ at the shows climax was certainly a highlight, with beautiful harmonies and a catching melody.

If you have never been to the opera, Faust may be the introduction you were looking for. It brings with it all the spectacle, whilst still remaining engaging throughout the course of the performance, and leaves you with a taste for more.

Image Credit; Jeff Busby

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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