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nineveh_uk
Last night being Walpurgis Night, the ROH was doing a thematic cinema broadcast of its production of Faust, which I duly trotted along to, because I like Faust and I've only seen it once, at the ENO, but there was no way I was going to get to a 3 hour 45 minute performance one evening early in Trinity term. The cinema isn't the same as the physical experience, but it's a lot better than my stereo.

And very worthwhile it was, too. A coherent staging (though I'm unconvinced by the random Moulin Rouge cabaret in place of village maidens), well sung and acted, and - not words you'll often hear- a terrific act IV ballet. Having done Dr Faustus at A-Level I like my Mephistopheles (Erwin Schrott) with a bit more edge, and Gounod clearly wasn't interested in making him tormented, but you can't have everything. The Walpurgis Night ballet really was very, very good: whoever came up with pregnant revenant Marguerite was on form that day. But it is a very, very long opera. If I were rich and lived within a 10 minute taxi ride of an opera house, I would watch acts 1 and 2, go home for act 3, and come back for 4 and 5. There is some beautiful music in act 3,but it goes on forever. Kudos to the two students at their first opera, and the tweens with their parents for all sitting through it with patience. I can only assume that it lasts that long because the C19 audience needs long enough to let themselves believe that Marguerite isn't a complete slapper for sleeping with a stranger the first night she meets him.

As for the music, yes, yes, Le veau d'or is terrific, but it's not the only tune in the piece. Actually, I felt it needed a little more oomph, but possibly I'm spoiled by an old Live from the Met recording. Anyway, my heart is given to Avant de quitter ces lieux, sentimental tosh as it may be, here with Fischer-Dieskau here in the McVicar production with Hvorostovsky.

But if I were really, really rich I might buy my ticket for every night and for most just turn up for the end of act 5 and the final trio, because Anges purs, anges radieux is absolutely my favourite part and has been for years*, and contrary to almost every production on YouTube, this one got it right. TLDR: Marguerite, mad with shame and despair, awaits execution at dawn for infanticide. When Faust and Mephistopheles turn up to 'save' her, she recognises the devil for what he is and calls upon the angels to save her. They do.

Unfortunately, what an awful lot of productions seems to miss is that Marguerite (Irina Lungu) is sane at this point. She has a 100% accurate grasp of reality: the devil really is there, her soul really is in uttermost peril, she really does need God to save her, and her course of action is the only possible one with a chance of success.

This is a moment that shouldn't be sung quietly in a corner, facing the back of the stage, randomly spreadeagled or in a trench or mad, but by a character transfigured with understanding, on her knees or rising from them, hands passionate before her as the voice soars above - the classic presentation is what you need, and that is what we got. Though on stage there is the need to give the other two parties something to do**rather than stand like lemons at the back, which was also achieved in this case by having Faust (Michael Fabiano) also kneeling beside her in prayer - but to whom left open.

Anyway, this has turned into a rant and the videos are all fundamentally flawed one way or the other, so at least have the sound courtesy of Sutherland, Corelli, and Ghiaurov. One day I must read Goethe.

Also, while we're on about doing Faust wrong, the whole Gounod plot is nonsense from the devil's POV in terms of cost - benefit analysis wrong here. If he'd just wait for the man to commit suicide, he'd get his soul anyway!

*Indeed it featured in my absolute gift of a question in A-Level General Studies question, which was to propose the programme for an opera concert.

**In which respect though the sound quality is poor I rather like this Danish version in which Faust and Mephistopheles get into a "What the fuck is going on, how did you let this happen?" row while Marguerite ignores them.

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