One ring to rule them all: a giant metallic ring dominates the set of this new production of Faust from Turin. It tilts at different angles, rotates and pivots above another ring – a wreath of text on the stage floor taken from Goethe: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. Stefano Poda’s production is heavy on symbolism, yet is stylish and enthralling. The opera opens with Charles Castronovo’s aged, bare-chested Faust trapped within a circle of hourglasses beside a mountain of discarded books. Ildar Abdrazakov’s Méphistophélès, sporting a pair of shades, suavely saunters in to offer him an escape and before long they’re shaking hands on a deathly deal.
Blacks, whites and reds dominate the stage picture. Acres of scarlet velvet and satin costume the chorus in Act 2’s carousing, the hard-driven waltz busy with crazy hand-choreography yet static in terms of actual dancing. The ring contains two ivory tree stumps in Marguerite’s garden, where she dons a white coat encrusted in diamonds for her Jewel Song. Soldiers returning from the war are adorned with sacrifical crowns of thorns, while Méphisto, during his Serenade, caresses a line-up of pregnant ladies, popping their balloon-inflated bellies with a pin. Soot-caked Nubians cavort and body-surf in Act 5’s devilish Walpurgis night celebrations (much better choreographed than the waltz). Marguerite, caught in a web of ropes, dies in prison before earning salvation in a flood of bright light.
Gianandrea Noseda, the Teatro Regio’s dynamic music director, leads a taut performance, drawing fine playing from his orchestra. The cast is mostly very good. There’s a lovely burnished quality to Castronovo’s Faust and he sings a fine ‘Salut, demeure chaste et pure’, despite a slightly ungainly ending. Abdrazakov’s Méphisto is suave, with plenty of panache in ‘Le veau d’or’, but he can sometimes lack the saturnine blackness the darkest basses bring to the role. Russian soprano Irina Lungu is an affecting Marguerite; her pleasant lyric soprano negotiates the Jewel Song cleanly and her Act 3 duet with Castronovo is tenderly sung. Vasilij Ladjuk’s stentorian baritone has pitch problems in Valentin’s ‘Avant de quitter ces lieux’, but Samantha Korbey’s Marthe – presented as a youthful vamp – and Ketevan Kemoklidze’s sparky Siébel are bonuses.
In a production where night and darkness dominate, the picture quality is excellent, as is the sound. No extra features are included, but the production has much to recommend it. Faust can often seem a long opera in the theatre but the three hours just speed by here.