Glyndebourne launches the festival season with a problematic work.
Berlioz wrote The Damnation of Faust as a cantata for the concert hall, and though he subsequently conceived a plan to stage it, he never carried out the changes necessary to make it work as theatre.
Twenty five years after he died it was staged for the first time – something that has become relatively frequent in recent decades.
In his attempt to join up an episodic narrative Richard Jones adds in some new spoken linking material that, frankly, just gets in the way, and his decision to move the Minuet of the Will-o’-the-Wisps to the end as a kind of encore is a mistake.
Aided and abetted by designers Hyemi Shin and Nicky Gillibrand, Jones’ penchant for the comic-grotesque pays dividends – particularly with the dancers and chorus frequently dressed as demons – though placing the latter in serried ranks high up on the set merely serves as a reminder that the piece is closer to the oratorio tradition than to opera.
Nor are the central performances ideal, though all offer something. Allan Clayton’s Faust is vocally lithe, though when the high notes come he’s not quite ready for them. Christopher Purves makes a soft-grained Mephistopheles, insufficiently sinister to conjure up a malign presence.
Julie Boulianne offers emotional warmth as Marguerite while registering as passive. Ashley Riches makes his mark as Brander.
The large chorus sounds energised while the London Philharmonic is vital in the pit, though Robin Ticciati’s precise conducting could do with a stronger electrical charge.