REVIEW: Opera Australia – FAUST – Sir David McVicar Revival

10 months ago
Grace Marie
51

Performance : 7PM 10/02/2020 – OPENING NIGHT

‘Can opera singers act?’
The question that has haunted concert halls for decades; especially prevalent in the 21st Century
as the art-form snatches desperately at a sense of relevance. Opera Australia’s Faust offered the perfect opportunity to determine an answer: sitting alongside the likes of Don Giovanni and Carmen in popularity, directed by world-renowned Sir David McVicar, and with a story that eagerly indulges in the polarities of tranquil hope and frantic desperation.

Faust grotesquely wrestles with the notion that a grim reality will always lie beyond divine
fantasy in a quintessential be-careful-what-you-wish-for narrative. In this three hour and twenty
minute monolith, Director Sir David McVicar and his creative team ingeniously blend motif and
story to create an provocative and visually stimulating opera ; one that I would undoubtedly see
again.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes in FAUST – Opera Australia

The theatrical prowess present in this production is best embodied by the set of the town
square ; an ever-changing and maturing character in it’s own right. The backdrop of bleak
buildings seemed to be plucked straight from the streets of 1960s Paris and was held together by
set designer Charles Edwards’ passion rather than just paint and wood. As the story unfolds,
vibrant confetti pales to desolate snowfall, beauteous caskets become too-small coffins and
invigorated soldiers return with remnants of war upon their mind and body. McVicar’s
manipulation of contrasting visual stimuli proves his understanding of the philosophical
messages that make Faust so poignantly prevalent across time and place.

Now, to answer the question that opened this review ; opera singers, or at least the three that led
Faust, cannot act despite their incredible voices. The central plot was left as an emotionless lump
on the floor, occasionally jerking with life when the actors forgot self-indulgence and thrust their
performance outwards. Each actor seemed confined to comfortability, refusing to step out of
their self-crafted boxes of the tortured soul, doe-like damsel and stoic devil. And so, character
development was sacrificed, leaving behind moments of low stakes and emotional stagnicity.
Primary offender, Teddy Tahu Rhodes refused to embody the initial light-hearted nature of
Méphistophélès; tearing down comedic moments and reducing them to scripted robotics.

Thankfully, the extraordinary ensemble reinvigorated the story; each of them being captivated by
their own storylines, as well as the one unfolding before them. It was the individual interactions
between cast members which brought the realism that the story so desperately demanded.

Anna Dowsley, as Siébel, flawlessly blended acting and the operatic style with an
aptitude that I expected from the primary leads. Her desperate lunges across the stage fueled the
action, injecting emotional stakes in pivotal moments such as when Valentin visits Marguerite
during Act IV. In fact, I think I would’ve much preferred an opera titled “Siébel”, as it was she
who carried the leading cast past the elementary “sing-and-stare-blankly-out-at-audience” acting
technique.

FAUST – Opera Australia

I cannot discuss Opera Australia’s Faust without indulging in a deconstruction of the ballet.

The ballet. The shining star of the entire night. Phenomenal.

Although we had minor tastes of the dancers throughout in their portrayals of crawling
demons and scandalous prostitutes, those representations pale in comparison to the horrific
beauty of this number. Initially a beauteous ballet, the stage steadily descends into a grotesque
playground; typifying the fantasy versus reality metaphorical core of the piece. Slightly tilted heads break the ballerina’s elegant lines, screams of pain fracture the orchestrals and the integration of jolting contemporary dance interrupts the fantastical flow of ballet. Choreographers Shane Placentino and Michael Keegan-Dolan bathe the audience in their excellence, and I can confidently say that I have never seen anything more incredible take place
on stage. I would come to this production of Faust if only for these 20 minutes.

Despite my criticisms, I cannot help but call this production a work of art. Every set piece,
movement and lighting choice was motivated with pursuing a deeper meaning; aiming not just to
entertain, but to inform. I anticipate exploring more works by McVicar and his creative team,
individually or as an ensemble, and wish them success continuing their Sydney and Melbourne
runs.

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