Gounod’s version of Faust was written to entertain the bourgeoisie of Paris in 1859. The opera’s lyrical tunes, often divided into two-bar phrases with simple harmonic accompaniment, carry no sense of musical or dramatic development.
Even when the composer introduces some pseudo-Wagnerian gravitas and vaguely sensual chromatics, there is no sense of Goethe’s flesh and blood human beings caught in a terrifying existential crisis.
Instead, Gounod side-steps the big issues and concentrates on the Faust/Marguerite love story. He knows his audience have not come to the theatre to be disturbed. He gives us a thumping great clue when Faust asks only for youth, pleasure, girls, and Mephistopheles replies “Je puis contenter ton caprice” (yes, it is sung in French – Gounod’s melodies and the language are inseparable) – “I can satisfy your whim.”
Consequently, co-directors Ran Arthur Braun and Rob Kearley have produced an elegant and artful caprice of a morality fable, with contrived and amusing devices along the way, which absorbs their modern techniques and feels delightfully old-fashioned.
Opera North’s set is a series of constantly moving flats on to which are projected archly clever bits of video and digital imagery as symbols and psychological infill. The costumes are late 20th century, the acting is late 19th.
Musically, the evening is an exhibition of glorious bel canto. Orchestra and Chorus are sumptuous under conductor Stuart Stratford. Tenor Peter Auty (Faust), soprano Juanita Lascarro (Marguerite) and bass-baritone James Creswell (Mephistopheles) are vocally gorgeous and unstinting, with Creswell in unbeatable form.
Tomorrow and Oct 23, 25, 31 and Nov 3, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7pm, £15 to £63.50 www.leedsgrandtheatre.com