Faust, Royal Opera House, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The element of surprise may have diminished, but the shock hasn't. The Act V ballet is still the dramatic highlight of David McVicar's staging of Gounod's crowd-pleaser. Like so much of the evening it becomes another of Méphistophélès' side-shows, a diabolical deconstruction of what the Paris Opera of the late 1800s demanded of all operas staged there. But this is Walpurgis Night and balletic chastity morphs into balletic bestiality. Giselle this is not.

Then again, Faust was shooting-up in the previous scene and his seduction of Marguerite has taken a rather nasty turn with the murder of their love child at the hands of its mother. This is no place for the faint-hearted. McVicar may be in charge but it's the Devil calling the tune. And with his retinue of lost souls he is - in the figure of Orlin Anastassov - a suave, imposing chap. If only his singing weren't quite so far back in the throat and his bottom register better focused. Still, he has other ways of commanding our attention - presence he surely has.

And so, of course, does Angela Gheorghiu. It's still a bit like watching a diva playing a diva, but the singing - trills, roulades and liquid portamento tripping off the vocal chords - is for the most part gorgeous and the sound still the most beguiling on the planet. If only she inhabited her roles more, she would be unassailable.

The star of the show, though, is Doctor Faust. Piotr Beczala has come on in leaps and bounds since he made his Covent Garden debut in the role in 2004. You could still argue that the French style is only fleetingly in evidence but the youth and virility of the voice is exhilarating: his Act III "romance" sported a fabulously euphoric top C.

Outstanding, too, was Russell Braun's Valentin, whose celebrated entrance aria was phrased and shaded with real distinction. And speaking of seizing the moment, Della Jones' randy widow-in-waiting, Marthe Schwertlein, can still teach us all a thing or two.

A terrific revival of a smashing show, then, conducted with wholehearted relish by Maurizio Benini. And how appropriate that Marguerite's salvation comes with a summons from the organ loft where a figure suspiciously like Charles-François Gounod himself has now sprouted angel's wings. Don't you just love the opera?

To 29 September (020-7304 4000)