Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Feast of Faust at the Everyman

Faustian Pacts loomed large on  Friday with the metaphor featuring in the Irish Times leader. In Cork, the curtain opened   on the much anticipated production of Guonod's Gothic morality tale based on the ill-fated philosopher who sells his soul to the devil in return for youth. The blend of fine bel canto singing with Victorian kitsch served up in three generous hour long plus  helpings brought the first night audience at the Everyman Palace Theatre to their feet..
Here are some  thoughts  on this production.

The Orchestra: In a change to his more usual modus operandi of using an on stage mobile chamber ensemble cum actors, John O  Brien here uses an expanded static orchestra, dressing them in 18th century quasi military  jackets. 42 pieces even in a standard opera house would be feast enough for any Faust. The relatively intimate space served to intensify the impact of the large ensemble. Strings filled the pit space, wind and percussion were embedded in the set and brass colonized the off stage  boxes. The excellent orchestra playing under leader Ioana  Petcu Colan did justice to the colour in Guonod's 19th century score We particularly liked the  terrific organ timbre  from the pit evoking the  Gothic mood in the  third act, Dies Irae.

The Cast: There was fine singing all round from the cast of Irish and international artists. Korean tenor, Jung Soo Yun was a tortured Faust, Julian Tovey a dastardly Mephistophiles and Cara O Sullivan  a warm and stately Marguerite . It was in the smaller roles that most got under the skin of the smaltzy melodrama. Sandra Porter in the character cameo role of  Dame Marthe brought a welcome shot of humour to the sludgy libretto. Owen Gilhooly as the valiant Valentin brought a degree of stagecraft that upped the dramatic ante in any scene he appeared in. The  spirited third act trio with  Gilhooly,  Tovey and Soo Yun, Redouble, O Dieu Puissant  was a vocal and dramatic  highlight of the evening. It was good to see Cork baritone Brendan Collins in the role of Wagner.  Anne Gill was the faithful Siebel.

Top Brass: The Barracka :
Anything is better with bit of  brass: The cast were upstaged (literally if not metaphorically) by the Barrack Street Brass Band. The full complement of the Cork institution filed in to fill the standing space at the back of the stalls to give a stirring rendition of the Soldier's Chorus accompanied by a male chorus to give a thrilling surround sound stereo experience. Quite the high point of the  evening. Long as the evening was, I would love to have heard an encore.

The Chorus: The ladies and gentlemen sang well and  were  animated and  lively  thoughout.

Set design:   Designer Lisa Zagone's set design for Pagliacci remains one of the most memorable of recent years. Here she  sets the action amid the Gothic wooden arches and dusty book shelves of a library, adding items like a suspended stain glass window  and a tomb stone to denote a church and garden. in later scenes  This worked fine for a first act but the unchanging backdrop  added to a samey-ness  to the production and induced a degree of cabin fever . Book stacks and on stage stairs made the stage area seemed cluttered and  constricted physical aspects of the performance, cramping the style of the choreography.

Costumes  were  monochrome  in  19th century Victorian style  serving  to enhance Mephistophiles dashing red rig out complete with top hat in the style of a Victorian music hall MD.

Programme, . The 16 pages A4 did not include a plot synopsis or any insight into the staging or anorak details like the edition..  It rather presumed that punters would a be  au fait with the Goethe's yarn or would take the trouble to look it up before the show.

Stage direction did not fully bring out some of the more sinister details of the plot. Marguerite's baby only becomes apparent to me when she picks up a Moses basket.

Running Time With curtain up at 7.30 and coming down at about 11.15, it did make for a long sit. While not of Wagnerian proportions, you will need  the stamina of the Victorians to last the duration. I could cheerfully have lost 30 minutes or so of the score and not feel short changed. Best to approach it  having had  a nap and your tea before the show

The Gothic horror vein has proved a rich one for the Cork Operatic Society.  Although not as much fun as Der Vampyr, I enjoyed their production of this  stodgy Victorian melodrama with it's catchy hit tunes. The music and singing is first class and well delivered here by the Cork Operatic Society under director John O Brien.

Faust runs at the Everyman Palace   4 more performances until Feb 28th

Review Orpheus

Review Pagliacci


  1. I support every single word of this comment. Thank you for such an extensive article.
    The weak points, if any should be mentioned as the performance was altogether of a very high level - and I attend live performances all over Europe several times a year - were the unchanging stage, and maybe to a much lesser extend the mezzo's and tenor's executions on Friday 28.2.15. But this is really a matter of taste.
    I would love to see a Damnation de Faust next year - for the sake of exploring even more Goethe's work- but of course it could be seen as a lack of diversity in Cork. Damnation would step upwards the challenge for the production team but they've got us used to excellence by now :) .
    What about a Fidelio? or even better a Leonore (1805)?

  2. Thank you for your feedback. I am glad to take the opportunity in reply to concur that this performance in so many respects was indeed excellent as were any of the three productions I have seen from this adventurous company. I too have traveled to see l productions abroad and value greatly having this rich theatrical experience close to home.
    Yes, it might be a bit too soon for Damnation next year but no better man than John O'Brien to do justice to Berlioz should he take on the audacious challenge.