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Music by Charles Gounod

Opera North

The Lowry, 6 November 2012

Peter Auty as Faust and James Creswell as Méphistophélès.  Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Peter Auty as Faust and James Creswell as Méphistophélès. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

This is a splendid production of Gounod’s finest opera.

It is so superior to the composer’s other works in fact, such as Romeo and Juliet which Opera North staged in their Shakespeare season a few years back, that one or two contemporary critics even went so far as to question his authorship.  A challenge to a duel netted some speedy retractions.  No critic would venture to die for his opinions.

If there is one factor above all others that makes the opera succeed as a drama, it is the relationship between Faust (Peter Auty) and Méphistophélès (James Creswell), and here it feels fresh and genuine.  There’s a give and take, a toing and froing, kindness (seeming kindness, anyway) and exasperation.  Méphistophélès is a kind of worldly mentor to the good doctor.

Musically, Peter Auty is a spellbinding tenor and James Creswell is not far behind.  Singly and together, they made some gorgeous, titanic sounds.

Another factor worth mentioning is the set, and in particular the visuals – foreground and background – designed by Ran Arthur Braun.  The cascading images flowed as melodically as Gounod’s music and created a dynamic, fluid environment for the action taking place.  One gained the impression that Opera North’s often quite experimental use of video and montage for their Wagner productions have left a legacy that has been carried over into their mainstream work.

Certainly, the extensive use of film made watching Faust an altogether more complicated but potentially more enriching experience; a set is no longer simply static clutter.  But it did blur the boundary between cinema and theatre.  If there still is one, that is: Joe Wright’s film of Anna Karenina is another problematic case.

Faust is playing at The Lowry again tomorrow then touring the UK throughout November, further details are here.