The Damnation of Faust

Yesterday, I turned 23. I won’t dwell on my troubles accepting the passage on time, but instead dive right in with the festivities.

Last year, Ben and I were thinking about going to the opera. Ben had never been to the opera before, and I wanted to treat him to a really good production. So, a browse around revealed that Terry Gilliam would be directing a production of Berlioz’s fantastic “The Damnation of Faust” in May 2011. OK, not strictly an opera, but I performed it a few years back (playing bass in an informal music camp production (in a barn. Ask, if you’re curious), with the wonderful (Sussex based!) Neil Jenkins singing Dr Faust) and fell deeply in love with it. Oh, and Terry Gilliam is awesome, so extra bonus.

I booked my tickets as soon as they went on sale. I was on hold a mighty long time on the morning of November the first, but I didn’t care – I was determined to get good tickets for the matinee on my birthday.


B-Day (as opposed to D-Day) came around mighty fast, and yesterday afternoon found us lurking around the London Coliseum in anticipation. Soon, we were sat with a great view from the stalls (row J, which is close enough to actually see facial expressions, but not so close as to strain your neck).

It. Was. Amazing. From the brief spoken opener from Mephisto, through Faust’s heart-wrenching soliloquies (get an idea of how beautiful the music is from the first scene), the comedy songs, Faust’s descent into hell, and Marguerite’s requiem to close.

Like most ENO productions, it was in English (as opposed to the original French) – but there were sur-titles anyway, just in case you couldn’t make out the words. Personally, I had no trouble hearing, as all of the cast had beautiful voices and clear annunciation.

The scenery was out of this world, and I think there was more than a nod to to this famous painting (The Wanderer Above the Mists, Caspar David Friedrich) in terms of the scope of the opening scene, and Faust’s mad hair (although Berlioz himself was known for his flamboyant ginger locks) –

The running Nazi-metaphor was a good choice in my opinion – without it, we could have been left with some slap-stick demon story, but instead, comparisons drawn with WWII gave us something a lot darker, and far more Real.

And a special mention MUST go to Christopher Purves, singing the part of Mephisto. He had such an easy sounding voice, and was the archetypal cool, smooth demon. He was lurking around the stage whilst the human characters got about their business, and had so many costume changes (so smoothly executed) that I couldn’t keep track. The devil is everywhere: keep your eyes peeled.

Photo from The Guardian website

DEFINITELY worth seeing, should you get the chance. There are only 8 performances left, so you’d better get a move on. Tickets are going from £21 each, available via the ENO website.

Incidentally, if you are a student, or under 30 years old, DO apply for Access All Arias. It’s free, and you get top-notch tickets for cut prices. Made my birthday a bit cheaper, and meant that I could treat myself to two restaurant meals in one day. More about that tomorrow. Cheerio!


One thought on “The Damnation of Faust

  1. Pingback: Food: Empress of Sichaun « Unravelled

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