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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust (highlights) - opera in five acts (1859)
Faust … Nicolai Gedda (tenor)
Marguerite …Victoria de los Angeles (soprano)
Mephistopheles … Boris Christoff (bass)
Valentin …Ernest Blanc (baritone)
Paris Opéra Chorus and Orchestra/André Cluytens
rec. Salle de la Mutualité, Paris, September, October 1958
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 3933762 [75:25]

 


The complete version of this production of Faust is available as one of EMI’s ‘Great Recordings of the Century’. MusicWeb’s Tony Haywood reviewed it. I must say that I agree with every word Tony writes and share his enthusiasm for this production and his dismay at some critics’ assertion that Cluytens is in any way lacking in his direction of this opera. I have always rated Nicolai Gedda along with Jussi Bjoerling amongst the very top tenor voices of the 20th century. He had a most appealing timbre and certainly does not disappoint here. I am equally enthusiastic about Victoria de los Angeles’ contribution. Some critics have belittled Boris Christoff’s Mephistopheles as being ‘over-the-top’ but so what, he is marvellously oily and sinister.

This highlights single CD is taken from the 1989 digital remastering. It is a splendid bargain introduction to the opera; it includes all the most memorable set pieces. I can do no better than outline its content: There are no excerpts from Act I. The album commences with Act II and Victor Autrun, as Wagner, in jolly, lively voice leading the chorus of students in their merry drinking song, ‘Vin ou biè. The Act II highlights continue with: an imposing Ernst Blanc as soldier Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, expressing his concern about having to leave his sister by going to war in the stirring and heartfelt ‘Avant de quitter ces lieux’ one of Gounod’s unforgettable melodies; the chorus’s dance melody, the waltz, ‘Ainsi que la brise légère’; and Faust’s (Gedda) first approach to a reluctant (Marguerite), with Mephistopheles promising to aid Faust in his wooing, ‘Ne permettrez-vous pas’. Act III excerpts include Gedda’s rapturous ‘Salut demeure…’, beautifully controlled and colourfully expressive. So too, is de los Angeles’ in ‘Song of the King of Thule’ and her ‘Jewel Song’ the young Marguerite thrilled and entranced as she adorns herself. They are meltingly together in their duets ‘Il se fait tard’ and ‘O nuit d’amour, ciel radieux’ – no wonder Met audiences so took to their pairing, dubbing it the Vikki and Nikki show! Act IV’s melodramatic Scene 1, set inside a church, is powerfully dramatic with Marguerite praying for forgiveness having submitted to Faust and borne him a child. De los Angeles is quakingly penitent, imploring God’s grace and there is a chilling Christoff damning her, while the chorus intone the Dies irae. Scene 2’s excerpts begin with the well-known victory march and the chorus’s paean to their ancestors, ‘Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux’. Mephistopheles’s cynical serenade follows, ‘Vous qui faites l’endormie’, Christoff malicious and sardonic in his warning to young girls not to be too compliant before gaining the security of a ring. Valentin’s ‘Ecoutes-moi bien, Marguerite’, Blanc’s Valentin, again impressive, follows as brother curses sister with his dying breath. Finally, from the concluding Act V, set in the prison cell, Marguerite, famously prevails against the entreaties of Faust and Mephistopheles to follow them. She commends herself to God thereby ensuring her salvation: de los Angeles, magnificent in her thrillingly defiant stand against evil and the protestations of Gedda and Christoff. 

Golden highlights of a Faust to treasure.

Ian Lace

 

 


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