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Gounod, Charles: Faust (DVD) EMI Classic/ROH 2010

Gounod: Faust (DVD)

Gounod Faust DVD

Simon Keenlyside is on resplendent form as Valentin” Opera magazine

Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Director: David McVicar
Sets: Charles Edwards
Costumes: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting: Paule Constable
Choreography: Michael Keegan-Dolan

Faust : Roberto Alagna
Mephistopheles : Bryn Terfel
Marguerite : Angela Gheorghiu
Wagner : Matthew Rose
Valentin : Simon Keenlyside
Siebel : Sophie Koch
Marthe Schwertlein : Della Jones
The Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director, Terry Edwards) and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Associate Concert Master, Sergey Levitin)

Label: EMI Classics
Recorded: 19 June 2004
DVD Release Date: 13 Sep 2010
Format: PAL
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 2

Click the photo for performance details and reviews


What the critics say

Placido Carrerotti, ForumOpera.com,14.10.2010
Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux

English translation by Jane Prowse (Chastelaine)

A longstanding pillar of the repertoire, Gounod’s Faust has gradually been reduced to a rarity on the international operatic stage and this is the case even in France. This would account for why there has been a lack of video recordings available to date that truly meet all the standards: on the one hand, the old recordings, which are vocally brilliant, but technically and/or theatrically mediocre (the Tokyo performances with Alfredo Kraus, Mirella Freni and Nicolaï Ghiaurov, for example, come to mind); at the other end of the spectrum, the more recent recordings, which are so lacking musically, that it would be kinder not to name them.

So it is most fortunate that this recording has arrived to fill the void, and it does so beautifully. Recorded during performances at Covent Garden in 2004, this DVD straightaway ranks highly as a piece of film making, despite some flaws and provokes just one essential question: why has it taken so long to release it!

At the peak of his career, Roberto Alagna’s interpretation of Doctor Faust combines an arrogant attitude with a perfect mastery of style. With him, we witness that whole tradition of French song being reborn: impeccable diction, breath control and phrasing. We may quibble about a certain sharpness in the higher register (a minor offence by Roberto), a lack of variation in colour at times, a role that appears too external (skilful use of direction), but vocally, Alagna is unrivalled amongst the tenors of his generation.

Angela Gheorghiu, however, is fully committed to a character whose slightest emotions she is able to convey, using vocal inflections that are wonderfully rich in quality. The recording smoothes out certain defects on stage: the voice becomes more consistent in projection and pronunciation is very clear throughout. On the other hand, the acting can seem somewhat exaggerated, as it is not easy to act both for the camera and the audience up in the gallery. Nevertheless it is impossible not to sense a thrill passing between these two. Overall, this is a magnificent portrayal and an “operatic couple” that are perfectly matched. Alas, this is now a thing of the past.

Conversely, Bryn Terfel chooses a theatrically sober but accurate interpretation of his role. Vocally, his performance shifts between a rather relaxed style on the one hand, which is particularly noticeable in the “Sérénade”, and an absolutely remarkable brilliance in his delivery on the other.

Simon Keenlyside as Valentin is an utter delight: a magnificent stage presence, a magnificent voice, with just the right amount of emotion and no histrionics.

Another delight is Sophie Koch’s endearing Siebel; both her singing and acting are perfect. The French mezzo manages to bring interest to a character usually considered bland.

Antonio Pappano conducts with ardour rather than finesse (his recent Manon springs to mind but it’s an approach that can be justified, as it manages to make us focus so closely on the drama being played out).

It is a pity, having such a fine cast, to have cut Marguerite’s “l’air de la chambre”, Siebel’s aria which follows it and also Faust’s Bacchic song in the final act. On the other hand, the ballet is restored: moreover, thanks to the director, it is one of the highpoints in the performance.

David McVicar’s direction is actually one of the most interesting features of this DVD: punchy in approach, it is spectacular and original, but nevertheless it remains faithful to the work, and is brimming with devices that hold the audience’s attention throughout the opera. One may imagine more moving performances, but with its caustic approach, this one is, nonetheless, a success.

Opernglas, November 2010

Sie ist perfekt und das pure Opernglück für zuhause! Die letzte Premiere der Saison 2003/ 2004 am Royal Opera House hatte mit einem spektakulären »Faust« für einen begeisterten Taumel in Superlativen gesorgt (OG 7-8/2004). Jetzt kann auch der DVD-Einspielung dieser Produktion von EMI Classics positiv bescheinigt werden, dass sie eine Opernsternstunde stilsicher und lebendig für die Ewigkeit bewahrt hat. David McVicar hat die Faust-Geschichte ins nachrevolutionäre Paris des Charles Gounod transponiert, und hier tobt sich das Regieteam mit überbordender Fantasie in morbid französischem Realismus aus. Zwischen Proszeniumsloge und gigantischem Orgelprospekt, auf dem Faust wie das berühmte Opernphantom in die Tasten haut oder ein Gottvater im Frack die Absolution erteilt, zieht Kriegseuphorie auf dem quirligen Marktplatz um das steinerne Golgotha-Kreuz, feiert Faust im blinkenden Cabaret-Licht wie Graf Danilo seine neue Jugend, intrigiert Méphisto in feuchten fahlen Hinterhofgassen, betet Marguerite in einer mit unzähligen Bodenkerzen ausstaffierten Krypta.
Außerdem heißt es: Vorhang auf für ein “Dreamteam”! Das einstige Traumpaar Angela Gheorghiu und Roberto Alagna zeigt hier in berückender Weise, was seine früheren gemeinsamen Auftritte so geadelt hat. Beide geizen nicht mit strahlendem Stimmglanz und melodiöser Grandezza und starten von einer kerngesund ruhenden Basis aus zu sich gegenseitig inspirierenden Höhenflügen mit selbstbewusst gestalteten Individualisierungen – Marguerite und Faust in romantisch dramatischer Bestform. Und dazwischen agiert ein “Bad Boy”, der das Blut gefrieren lässt. Bryn Terfel zaubert mit ausschließlichem Schöngesang zwischen gefährlichen Piani und offen fordernden Forteattacken einen kalt faszinierenden Méphistophélès aus dem Hut, der seinesgleichen an diabolisch unheimlicher Majestät sucht.

Mit der Besetzung des Valentin durch Simon Keenlyside erfährt diese vergleichsweise kleine Rolle eine charismatische, die Gesamtdramaturgie bereichernde Aufwertung. Selten hört man Valentins Abschiedsarie derart intensiv und schönstimmig, selten geht Valentins Tod in seiner sturen Unversöhnlichkeit so nah.

George Hall, Opera, November 2010

Filmed as far back as 2004, though not previously released (and even so, for some mysterious reason, lacking credits to the director and designers in the accompanying material), this Faust plays the Walpurgisnacht scene with ballet though not other ‘optional’ extras such as Marguerite’s ‘II ne revient pas’ or Siebel’s ‘Si Ie bonheur’. The setting is Paris around the time of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 (a stuffed dummy of a Prussian soldier is abused in Act 2). On one side a theatre box and red curtain indicate (almost in capitals) The Stage; on the other an aisle and an organ loft represent The Church. No garden for the garden scene, which is set in the rundown courtyard of a small apartment block.

Angela Gheorghiu might have had to work hard against type to play the Simple Village Maiden, but her task is easier in David McVicar’s production, where Marguerite works in a dubious joint called the Cabaret L’Enfer. If the general approach is to locate this Faust around Charles Gounod himselfdivided, compositionally, as he was between the sexy world of the theatre and the respectably Victorian church music/oratorio markets-then one might point out that Faust itself is altogether bigger than such a relatively minor personal dichotomy.

Yet even if the concept is slight, much of the staging nevertheless works through McVicar’s vitality of theatrical imagination, which never deserts him (well, hardly ever). The macabre parody of Giselle in the ballet sequence may be Hammer Horror Gothic, but it’s strikingly effective, with Bryn Terfel’s appearance in a ball-gown a masterstroke of camp. (He looks gorgeous, incidentally.) The director’s regular small team of actors/acrobats/ dancers is much in evidence, and often well deployed. At least there is a sense of showbiz to light up the Calf of Gold song and the Waltz, here culminating in an Apache Dance in Michael Keegan Dolan’s choreography.

Despite solid direction of the principals throughout, Gheorghiu can’t quite sink herself into her character; there’s an air of dramatic artificiality that offsets the appreciable accomplishment of her vocalism. Alagna throws himself into the title role more willingly, negotiating a neat cartwheel when rejuvenated in Act I and attacking his notes with aplomb, top Band C included, and with more than a modicum of style. Terfel enjoys himself as Mephistopheles, the ample resources of his bass-baritone finding ideal employment and his characterization combining sardonic humour with real menace. Simon Keenlyside is on resplendent form as Valentin, Sophie Koch warmly likeable as Siebel (though why the limp?), and Della Jones great fun as Dame Marthe.

Antonio Pappano conducts a performance that brings together Gallic spirit and theatrical energy and reveals the alternate delicacy and panache of Gounod’s inventive and often brilliant score.

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