Faust at The Everyman Theatre, 20th of February 2015.

The opening night of probably one of the most highly anticipated opera productions so far in 2015, Faust, has finally arrived. A large crowd descends upon the Everyman Theatre and the excitement in the air is almost palpable. After the success of previous productions such as Der Vampyr, Orpheus and the award winning Pagliacci, expectations for the group are high. Faust by French composer Charles Gounod premiered in Paris in 1859 and is loosely based on the tragic play by Goethe. Rather disappointingly the printed programmes do not include a libretto or synopsis of the opera, which suggests that the audience is expected to either be familiar with the work or to have researched it beforehand.

The layout of the 42 piece orchestra is quite unusual but cleverly manages to fit a full orchestra into such a small space. The string section, harp and organ are where one would expect in the orchestra pit. However the woodwind and percussion sections are positioned in platforms above the stage in alcoves in the set. The brass section is split into two off-stage boxes on either side of the stage. The orchestra and their conductor John O’ Brien are all dressed in black military jackets making them seem more connected with the action on stage. The orchestra, lead by Ioana Petcu-Colan, masterfully interpret the colours of Gounod’s score.
The set, designed by Lisa Zagone, is primarily Faust’s study with shelves crammed with dusty books and has large piles of towering books on different parts of the stage. It also has gothic arches and a deepset window that also lend itself well to being a church and Marguerite’s window. However, even with some clever additions to the set which are added as the opera progresses, the set begins to feel irrelevant after Act One and makes some scenes seem less credible and somewhat confusing, particularly in Act Five. As far as costumes are concerned Zagone has done an outstanding job with the cast. The majority of the cast wear Victorian/Edwardian monochrome garb which highlights the contrast of Méphistophélès, who aptly dresses ostentatiously in red.

Cork soprano Cara O’ Sullivan and South Korean tenor Jung Soo Yun are cast in the title roles of Marguerite and Faust. Although Cara’s bel canto style of singing is sublime she seems rather mature for the role of young Marguerite. Unfortunately it is quite difficult to imagine her as the epitome of youth. It is baritone Julian Tovey in the role of the devil Méphistophélès that proves to be the star of the show. He deftly conveys the wily Méphistophélès and the audiences’ attention always gravitates to him no matter what is happening on stage. Tovey has the uncanny ability of impeccable comic timing and the ability to make the smallest of gestures count. Mezzo-soprano Sandra Porter in the cameo role of Marthe Schwarlein is also commendable for the comic relief she provides during the opera.

One of the highlights of the night is the rousing, tongue in cheek rendition of Vin ou Bière by the chorus. The staging and choreography of this is very original and daring. The enthusiastic, hard working chorus are vocally strong and very convincing. However the pinnacle of the night is the famous soldier’s chorus Deposons les armes and Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux. This sees the surprise arrival of the Barrack Street Band and an additional chorus of male voices giving a real life surround sound effect in the theatre.

The opera is quite long and consists of five acts averaging at three and a half hours in length. Even with two fifteen minute intervals scheduled, it requires a certain stamina from both the audience and all involved, particularly for the less-seasoned opera goer. Nonetheless, the production receives a well deserved standing ovation at the close. Overall this is a production well worth catching, with a wealth of local and international musical talents. A bit of advice for anyone planning to see this opera: be prepared. Arrive early, do your research, and most importantly be well rested and caffeinated!
Faust will run for a further three nights at The Everyman Theatre, Cork on Tue. 24th, Fri. 27th and Sat. 28th of February at 7:30p.m.

Photos courtesy of Cork Operatic Society.