The Damnation of Faust, Coliseum, London
Moved by a devilishly good debut
Poor old Berlioz. The moment Terry Gilliam was announced as director of this new ENO staging, it was obvious that the composer would scarcely get a look-in, at least in advance. It's the first venture into opera (in a co-production with De Vlaamse Opera, Antwerp) for the Monty Python animator and director of such legendary movies as Brazil, Twelve Monkeys and The Fisher King. The question, of course, was: could this operatic novice deliver in a field where so many other film supremos have fallen flat on their faces?
Well, in certain ways Berlioz doesn't get a look-in in the finished version either, since Gilliam has elected to take us through a journey through German history, all the way from Romanticism – the red-haired Faust himself is straight out of that famed Caspar David Friedrich painting – to, you guessed it, Marguerite rises to heaven from Auschwitz. It's not so much Monty Python as The Producers, so full is the show of camp, dancing, exercising Nazis. Springtime for Terry and Berlioz, anyone? But Python fans will be glad to know that close to the start we do get a glimpse of something much resembling the Knights that say Ni.
Berlioz's Faust is a challenge at the best of times – it's not even opera, strictly speaking, but in the composer's terminology a "légende dramatique", part cantata, part opera and possibly as ill-suited to the stage as Goethe's "closet drama" that inspired it. But Berlioz, Gilliam and the character of Mephistopheles, the devil, have two great things in common: a vast imagination and a sense of unbounded mischief that means breaking all the rules, including "avoid cliché". Gilliam seems to have elected to do the latter so spectacularly that it floors everyone anyway. At least sometimes.
When it doesn't work, it really doesn't work. After all, the Nazis had nothing whatsoever to do with Berlioz, who wrote this magnificent work back in 1846, let alone Goethe. Yet the best moments are stunning. Having spent most of the first half thinking "When are we ever going to grow up and get past putting the Nazis into opera?" by the end of the evening this critic was shaken and profoundly moved.
All credit to ENO for pulling it off. It's a phenomenally slick, complex show of many components and brilliant theatrical effects.
In rep to 7 June (0871 911 0200)
Arts & Ents blogs
What a wonderful way to end this momentous series in the 50th year of Doctor Who. From the start of ...
Let's talk book blurbs, those quotes you get, usually from other writers, that are meant to entice y...
Fela Kuti, Jewish food and The Great Gatsby are just some of the reasons why the rainy weather ahead...
- 1 Tears and cheers as David Beckham ends glittering career after helping PSG to final win
- 2 Heading for America? Prepare for the longest US immigration queues ever
- 3 You thought Ryanair's attendants had it bad? Wait 'til you hear about their pilots
- 4 David Cameron goes to war with newspapers over 'swivel-eyed loons' slur
- 5 It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking's Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.