Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- Faust , Theatr Hafren , August 25, 1999
I have to admit that it was with some temerity that I booked for Mid Wales Opera, whom I'd never come across before, doing Gounod's Faust, which isn't exactly beginner's material, at a theatre in Newtown, Powys, which doesn't exactly leap out as a mecca for opera. I'm glad to report that I was confounded all round by an excellent performance in a comfortable theatre with a warm acoustic and excellent sightlines. This autumn MWO are touring quite extensively in England with The Barber of Seville and if they approach it with anything like the skill, freshness and imagination of their Faust it will be worth a visit. Unfortunately, unless you are in Newtown or Llandudno in the next week or two, you won't catch their Faust.

Mid Wales Opera has been gradually expanding its operations for the last ten years and now puts on two operas at its August festival in Newtown and one of which it tours (this time the Barber of Seville).

They decided to go back to the original version of Faust with spoken dialogue in a newly commissioned English translation by Amanda Holden or as close as they could get because there appear to be a plethora of changes made at or near the first night as well as the later additions to turn it into grand opera.

The production was by Stephen Medcalf, formerly the ETO's resident artistic director, and Keith Darlington conducted the willing, if not always scrupulously accurate, Birmingham Conservatoire Festival Orchestra. Medcalf's production, while possibly of necessity erred on the side of sparseness, had a wealth of original and imaginative details.

Medcalf set the action in France in the late 1930's or early 40's which gave him the freedom to use American musical type dance routines with the large chorus expertly choreographed by Vanessa Gray. Mephistopheles and Faust's 'white tie and tails' dance routine following Faust's signing the pact was a particularly nice touch. This approach allowed a very effective balancing of the comic elements with the dramatic and only once or twice did the push for laughs detract.

As well as spoken dialogue, this original version had several numbers that are not normally found in recordings including a short trio between Wagner, Siebel and Faust in the opening scene where they announce they are giving up studying with him, a duet between Marguerite and Valentin on his departure and a chorus of women discussing Marguerite's pregnancy and abandonment. There were no Walpurgis night nor Brocken scenes. While it was interesting to hear these additions, I'm not sure that their normal omission is a great loss.

The standard of performance from chorus and singers was first class. Peter Auty as Faust particularly impressed as did Fiona Campbell as Siebel. Michael John Pearson was an aptly sardonic Mephistopheles and Elizabeth Woolett warmed up from a rather hesitant 'Un roi de Thule' to end with some wonderful singing in the fearsomely exposed final scene.

Reviewed by: Russell Burdekin

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