I have known and loved this performance
for years in a VHS version, but the
uneven quality of sound and fragility
of the tape have marred my enjoyment.
Our failing VCR decided to mangle that
particular tape and I was delighted
to see it made available on DVD. Here
the sound and picture have been cleaned
up and are presented as though this
was taped last year and not last decade.
Let my misfortune be a warning to the
wise: replace your treasures on DVD
when you get the chance. Someone has
described a VHS cassette as a self-destruct
mechanism; it may last along time but
will eventually, inevitably, fail.
It is often commented
that this opera is less popular than
Gounod’s version, however, not among
those I know who have heard both. The
Gounod is often ranked to be the most
vulgar and sentimental grand opera ever
written, whereas this depiction of the
title character and his machinations
is fully worthy of intelligent attention.
It is remarkable how Boito’s work keeps
getting "discovered" and yet
is never considered firmly in the repertoire.
Some reviewers felt these sets were
‘minimalist’ and but I don’t know what
they’re talking about. The opera itself
is somewhat abstracted, hardly a Disney
scenario, and the sets and staging fit
the ethic perfectly.
Ramey is simply overwhelming
in this role — every minute he is on
stage you are captivated, ensnared.
When he took his third curtain call
the audience were literally screaming.
But the credit for the acknowledged
success of this production should distributed
more evenly; everybody does an excellent
job. The chorus begin as blessed souls
in heaven, then they’re dancing revellers
at a street fair, then writhing orgiasts
in hell while the boss sings Ecco
il mondo, then Helen’s retinue,
then back to heaven again for the finale.
I would like to see
Benacková perform Maria
in Tchaikovsky’s "Mazeppa."
She has a beautiful, powerful voice
and is a superb actress exploring the
three roles she plays in this opera:
innocent maiden; condemned murderess
who struggles through her madness to
beg for divine mercy; and Helen of
Troy, the divine courtesan who momentarily
recalls the horrors of the destruction
of Troy. Her final duet with Faust is
worthy of Puccini, all the better for
not having to sit through a Puccini
opera to get to it.
Dennis O’Neil as Faust
has the clear, lyrical power of Pavarotti
without the latter’s tendency to wail.
In addition to his beautiful voice he
brings a quality of innocence to his
role; at one moment he reminded me of
Dudley Moore from "Bedazzled."
Even at his most venial, this is a Faust
you are cheering for — you want him
to get away in the end, which, of course,
Boito’s musical ethic
is pure Liszt with an occasional nod
to Rossini. When, a decade earlier,
Liszt wrote his Dante Symphony
he completed the "Inferno"
and "Purgatorio" movements
but gave up on "Paradiso"
after a couple dozen bars because he
felt inadequate to portray the glories
of heaven in music. After hearing what
he wrote, his friend Wagner seconded
that opinion. Boito went triumphantly
ahead where Liszt feared to proceed,
to portray on a human stage the glories
of heaven. This stage director took
up the challenge and they succeed beyond
anything I can describe here. If I tried,
you’d say, oh, that won’t work. Well,
it does, it does!
the heaven scene we move into the midst
of a wild colourful Bacchanalian street
fair with the stage full of dancers,
banners, floats, costumes. Out of this
slowly emerges the solemn figure of
a grey friar intoning the rosary. It
is Mephistopheles, he has come for Faust,
Faust knows it and falls prey. He willingly
signs the contract—after reading the
fine print on all four pages.
If Mephisto ever offered
me the classic deal, what would I want
out of the rest of this life? Not sex
— I’ve done all that and it never brought
me happiness. I think I’d trade eternity
in Hell for the entire Westminster LP
catalogue restored to DVD-Audio plus
all the money I want to produce my choice
of operas. After we rebuilt Memphis
and Thebes we’d give the world an Aïda
to remember! And, of course, Tovey’s
Bride of Dionysus.