Review: Faust

This glittering production is luminous with theatricality, and the devil as ever gets the best lines


Everyman, Cork


How to poise most of an orchestra on a pile of books is a problem few stage designers might welcome but Lisa Zagone, assisted by Michael Hurley's lighting scheme, has accepted the challenge with enthusiasm for this presentation of Charles Gounod's Faust.


A co-production by Everyman and the Cork Operatic Society, it offers among other pleasures the delight of detecting the woodwind emanating from a bookcase or the brass from one of the theatre’s domed boxes, although a suspicion that physical scale is compromised in one or two over-crowded scenes must be acknowledged. This, and the need for a serious argument with Marguerite’s hairdresser, are the only doubts in a musically and dramatically memorable production, luminous with melody and glittering with theatricality.

Sung in French and adapted from Goethe’s story of a pact with Satan, in which youth and love are priced above the cost of eternal damnation, Gounod’s romantic music and the beguiling libretto by Barbier and Carre demand both intensity and lyricism.

Achieving innovation without contradiction, John O’Brien’s fluid direction evolves from an engagement with the supernatural idiom that kept the devil both imminent and potent. As conductor, brass-buttoned to the chin like all the musicians, O’Brien styles the playing as a supple and expressive continuo, and even the arrival of the Barrack Street Band for the Soldiers’ Chorus sits so well into the scenario that there is no surprise at O’Brien’s ability to conduct orchestra and chorus in front of him and band and chorus behind him at the same time.

Confidence to this degree provokes surprise and excitement and invigorates the orchestra (led by Ioana Petcu Colan), chorus and principals. Cara O'Sullivan's big moment must be Marguerite's Jewel Song, but this brightly coloured aria is countered by the delicacy of her closing scene, where the pathos is tightened with the anguish of Jung Soo Yun's warmly voiced Faust. A wealth of duets, trios and quartets endorses the magic of the classic tradition, a genre well suited to Owen Gilhooly's fine Valentin and which allows a superbly subtle Mephistopheles from Julian Tovey, whose curse on the lovers is sung like a benediction. As ever when Satan is involved, the devil has the best lines, but in this production he also has the best clothes, from his caped and feathered entrance to the plumage of his last-act wings, a triumphant metaphor for four hours of operatic élan.

Performances on February 24th, 27th and 28th

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture