Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
La Damnation de Faust - Legende dramatique in four acts.
Orfeón Donostiarra de San Sebastian
Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Sylvain Cambreling.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 003
subtitles in German English and Dutch.
This Salzburg Festival performance was recorded on 25th August
1999. Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust is a difficult work
to stage with all its intricacies of shifting scenes and demanding production
requirements like the climactic 'Ride to the Abyss'. It's enough to make
any budget-conscious impresario shrink. This production has great imagination
but its effect is somewhat hit and miss.
A word first though about the music and the cast. Too often Cambreling opts
for slow tempi. I expected much more fire and dynamism - especially in the
big orchestral numbers. Paul Groves is a competent if not very inspiring
Faust and Kasarova could have been a more innocent and vulnerable Marguerite
although her timbre and phrasing are most pleasing and her big numbers: 'The
King of Thule' and the 'Romance' where she mourns Faust's inconstancy are
a delight. Willard White is a strong and demonic Mephistopholes and impresses
in his aria where he prepares Marguerite for Faust's seduction and in the
song of the flea. Brander's drinking song is lustily sung by Macco too.
The set is as shown on the DVD booklet cover above. The cylinder plays an
important role housing the cast as necessary and as a screen on which images
are cast. These vary from the fires of the furnace, to a picture of the
conductor, to pictures of a wild white horse racing towards the abyss. Most
effective of all is when the whole cylinder opens out to show Faust falling
into hell and the demons ranged along its galleries singing their demonic
song of triumph. But offsetting these strengths are some odd, even risible
production values. Faust enters (as does the chorus), dressed in an all-white
track suit and twee hat, carrying 'his psychic substance' on his back in
the shape of a flask that resembles a milk churn. To see the chorus trudging
about the stage carrying these things to the strains of the 'Hungarian March'
is weird indeed. But worse, there are some strange looking monolithic objects
that look like a cross between a cross and a coffin. To see Faust and Marguerite
cavorting around these through their love duet is painful particularly when
you see some individual pushing one of them in the background (maybe they
should have blackened his face?) Worse yet is Mephistopheles cooling Marguerite's
ardour as she laments her loss of Faust by literally pouring the contents
of a watering can over her!
The audience I think were somewhat nonplussed, often the applause was somewhat
No, for me La Damnation de Faust is eminently suitable for the gramophone.
You can let your imagination fly. The recommended recording is that of Sir
Colin Davis (1973) Philips 416 395-2PH2.
[although still listed on the Philips website as a separate release
none of the webstores have a link to it which probably means it is no longer
available.. They all show a rerelease in a boxed set
at an excellent price but that would not include a libretto]