In the person of young Scottish bass-baritone Colin Brockie, it’s all too easy to see the attraction of Mephistopheles’ promises, and setting the updated but timeless story in a nightclub that was originally a non-conformist chapel makes the battle between good and evil all the more powerful.
The splendid young orchestra was conducted by Winterbourne Opera’s musical director Calum Fraser. The set (why DID the programme describe it as a launderette?) and costumes (including the undead chorus!) were designed for maximum impact by Tom Paris and lit by recent Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate Jon Roache – whose Heresy of Love design was so memorable.
Faust (Michael Solomon Williams) is here an ageing night-club owner sitting in the debris of his destroyed empire when the devil happens by, promising him youth, in return (of course) for his soul.
Out of the bevy of clubbing beauties on offer, the newly young Faust wants only the pure Marguerite, whose honor is protected by her priggish soldier brother Valentin and championed by young Siebel.
Ben Occhipinti’s site-specific productions for the company, previously in the cattle ring of the local agricultural auction house, have been an interesting challenge and a great success, and his incisive, witty and intelligent approach makes them accessible to all ages. There was a deal of “well, I’ve never been in anywhere like this before”-ing outside The Chapel!.
Salisbury native Jessica Broad made a welcome return to Winterbourne Opera as the anguished Marguerite, and her later scenes with Mephistopheles were as painful as they were terrifying.
Emma Watkinson, another Wiltshire native, was a perfect Siebel, full of natural kindness and concern in the face of evil.
A mention too for Rachel Dreese as the “angel” who freed the resurrected Marguerite. Hers is a glorious voice and we should be hearing more of it.
But all eyes were on Colin Brockie. His voice is unusually flexible for a sonorous bass. He can act and move and he looks marvellous. I predict a starry future for this young man who is honing his craft in the chorus of Glyndebourne Touring Opera.
Performances continue until Saturday.
Photographs by Ash Mills