The Damnation of Faust – Leeds Town Hall
Composer: Hector Berlioz
Conductor: Simon Wright
Opera North is reputed for their variety of operas and other works which are hosted season after season. Their orchestra and choirs, however, are a success in their own right and are regular features in the Leeds International Concert Seasons. On this occasion Orchestra of Opera North plays Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust which features four choirs, Leeds Festival Chorus, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, Opera North Young Voices and Opera North Children’s Chorus.
Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust is based on Goethe’s Faust. Faust is a tragic play about a deep thinking scholar (David Butt Philip) who feels unfulfilled with his life; he sells his soul and makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles, in order to gain unlimited knowledge and ultimate pleasure. He falls in love with a local girl, Marguerite (Rachel Kelly) and the charismatic Mephistopheles (David Soar) plans to let hell loose in society and his disguise dressed as a gentleman is deceptive.
Goethe’s Faust is considered a legend and there are numerous literary and musical interpretations including Berlioz’s musical composition. His dramatic legend is specifically for solo artists, orchestra and numerous choruses including children’s ones. This retelling of the story is usually performed at concert halls and it is no different to the Victorian Leeds Town Hall where the city concerts are regularly held.
This performance is sung in French throughout which is led by the four soloists including Ashley Riches (Brander) and they are backed with harmonious choruses who are perched high up in the choral stands behind the orchestra. The beautiful heartfelt arias, especially in final part, Kelly sings as Marguerite are memorable and also other arias, duets and choruses.
A wide range of musical instruments that forms the large orchestra are played throughout and represents the story’s complexities and emotions. What stands out is the dramatic crescendo, emphasised with a combination of vocals, brass and percussion, when Faust meets his hellish fate. Berlioz’s score is delightful, melancholy and dramatic emphasising the characters journeys’ extremities Faust and Mephistopheles travel on. It is hypnotic and yet at the same time it tells an important story.
This “part opera, part cantata” production is delivered well under the excellent direction of Simon Wright and his musical co-ordination is ought to be admired. It is a good opportunity to see this production being fully staged with a showcase of voices in spirit of Berlioz’s composition.
Reviewed on 12 May 2018