Due to sing Marguerite in this revival of David McVicar’s 2004 production, star German soprano Diana Damrau pulled out a week ago because of a slipped disc. Her replacement, Russian soprano Irina Lungu, pulled out on the day the revival opened with a throat infection.
Flying in to save the show, another German soprano – Mandy Fredrich – arrived late in the afternoon; and though clearly unfamiliar with the production, she got through it with just a little to spare.
The rest of the cast rallies round and give performances of panache. Michael Fabiano’s convincingly rejuvenated philosopher is cleanly and vigorously sung, with delicacy and sensitivity prominent in the mix. Erwin Schrott’s Mephistopheles – apparently also delivered with an indisposition on the first night – is unbeatable in its brilliant combination of malevolence with broad, knowing comedy.
Though Marta Fontanals-Simmons is an uneven Siebel, Stéphane Degout gives a deliberate account of Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, and Carole Wilson makes a rampant Dame Marthe.
With its sinister group of evil spirits aiding and abetting Mephistopheles in his wicked schemes, West End choreography, flamboyance and occasional outrageousness, McVicar’s show remains a fascinatingly vital piece in the hands of revival director Bruno Ravella.
Its overall premise – showing the composer himself torn between the world of the theatre and the church – may be laboured academicism, but its striking visuals are a fine match for the vivid theatricality of Gounod’s endlessly inventive score, which, even with a few moments of untidy ensemble, generally comes over well under conductor Dan Ettinger.