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DVD Opera Review
La Damnation de Faust - Legende dramatique in four acts.
Faust……………………………………..Paul Groves
Mephistopholes………………………….Willard White
Marguerite……………………………….Vesselina Kasarova
Brander…………………………………..Andreas Macco
Orfeón Donostiarra de San Sebastian
Tölzer Knabenchor
Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Sylvain Cambreling.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 003 [146 mins]   subtitles in German English and Dutch.
Amazon UK £22.99

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 tepid.

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 4561432  at an excellent price but that would not include a libretto]


Ian Lace



Ian Lace

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