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Music Pages

Gounod's Faust at Covent Garden

7 April 2014, London, UK

Sonya Yoncheva as Marguerite with Joseph Calleja as Faust
Sonya Yoncheva as Marguerite with Joseph Calleja as Faust(Photo: Bill Cooper)

Review by Francis Muzzu

Starrily-cast and much anticipated, this revival of David McVicar’s production was dealt a blow with the cancellation of Anna Netrebko, who decided that Marguerite wasn’t for her. How wonderful that her replacement, Sonya Yoncheva, scored a massive success in the role.  She flooded the house with radiant sound, and had just enough lung power left to sustain the line in the final trio, taken briskly by conductor Maurizio Benini.  Yoncheva was duly rewarded with a tumultuous ovation. 

Bryn Terfel’s Méphistophélès is a scene stealer, but despite some clever effects it is clear that his magnificent voice has perhaps become rather blustery for the part. As Faust, Joseph Calleja gave lots of voice, generally very beautiful, but didn’t do much with it apart from a stunning diminuendo on his top C in the Act III aria.  Simon Keenlyside’s Valentin was a display of healthy vocalism and little subtlety, but Renata Pokupić restored the balance with an elegant Siébel. 

The production remains spectacular, holding an unflattering mirror to Gounod’s Paris, yet at the same time it is somewhat alienating, fizzing and popping with energy and en route losing the audience’s engagement with Marguerite’s fate.  Benini’s conducting has a large-scale confidence that matches the onstage histrionics.

Gounod's Faust runs at Covent Garden until 25 April 2014

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