WHAT would tempt you to sell your soul to the devil?
In the case of Faust – supposedly a scholar but in this modern-dress version a generic man in a suit – it’s the chance to return to his youth and cash in on the opportunities he missed first time around.
The Devil, Mephistopheles, shows him a vision of a beautiful young woman, Marguerite, and that clinches it. Eternal hellfire, Faust decides, is a price worth paying for the chance to win her heart.
When it was premiered in the 1859, the opera by French composer Charles Gounod was not especially well received. But after a revival a few years later it became a hit. It isn’t put on too often these days and a far from full house on Monday perhaps explained why. You could say it’s a rather grim morality tale. Death, tears and damnation are part of the package and frilly costumes and light and airy arias to hum on the way home are definitely not.
I can’t pretend the modern setting, with its projected city backdrops and hand-held cameras, was my cup of tea. Why the chorus was sporting green and yellow eluded me too.
But this is a fantastic production from a musical perspective.
Peter Auty as Faust, James Creswell as Mephistopheles and Juanita Lascarro as Marguerite have wonderful voices and between them stir up a whirlpool of emotion at the heart of the drama, often against giant shape-shifting projections of themselves on the sliding screens behind.
The Opera North orchestra, invisible to me in the pit, also makes a big sound, well worthy of the forces of good and evil which do battle in this age-old tale.
For pretty much everyone, of course, it all ends in tears. I didn’t leave unhappy, though.
Ran Braun and Rob Kearley, sharing directorial duties, have put on a devil of a show and Mr Creswell’s demonic, rumbling laugh surely tops anything we’ll see in the panto season.
Faust is on again on Friday. In the meantime you can see The Makropulos Case tonight and Don Giovanni on Saturday.