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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust, Opera in Five Acts. (1859). Opera in five acts.
Faust, Charles Castronovo (ten); Méphistophélès, Ildar Abdrazakov (bass baritone); Valentin, Vasilij Ladjuk (bar); Marguerite Irina Lungu, (sop); Siébel, (Ketevan Kemoklidze sop); Marthe, Samantha Korbey (mezzo soprano); Wagner, Paolo Maria Orecchia (bar)
Orchestra & Chorus of the Teatro Regio Turin/Gianandrea Noseda
Director, Set, Costumes and Lighting, Stefano Poda
rec. Teatro Regio, Turin, June 7 and 9, 2015
Filmed in High Definition, 16:9 widescreen. Sound format: DTS 5.1, PCM 2
Video Directory, Tiziano Mancini
Booklet essay and synopsis in English, French and German
Subtitles in French (sung language), English, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
C MAJOR DVD 735108 [2 DVDs: 180 mins]

Gounod’s Faust has, since my adolescent years, always enjoyed a special place in my affections. In 1950, and being used to listening to opera arias and complete operas in my home, yes even on 78rpm shellacs of many sides, my parents took me to my first live opera. It was Faust performed by Sadlers Wells in Manchester. The cast was memorable. Hervey Allan as Méphistophélès, Roland Jones in the eponymous role and the redoubtable Amy Shuard as Marguerite. The production was made more fantastical as well as memorable by the use of ultra-violet light. Mephistopheles flashing and glowing eye effects remain with my mind’s memory sixty plus years on. My love of the opera and its melodies led me to write my article Faust on Record in 2004. My comments then have been somewhat overtaken by productions of several filmed stagings at major opera houses since then, including this performance.

In those far away 1950s, Gounod’s Faust was one of the most popular operas in the repertoire and had been so for many years. It had been the work selected, in 1883, to inaugurate the New York Metropolitan Opera House where its subsequent frequent appearances led to frivolous comments that it should be renamed the Faustspielhaus. Rather suddenly it seemed to me Gounod’s Faust fell out of fashion among those in control of opera houses. It was deemed rather trite by cerebral conductors and critics who clamoured for opera houses to commission new works and not depend on those from the19th century, albeit it was contemporaneous with the renaissance of Verdi’s early works enjoying widespread acclaim. This view might have been that of critics who tired of seeing the same old warhorses, but I find the general public like a cohesive plot with the story illuminated by melody as is Faust. Also if the production and sets are in a form that the public can recognise as relating to the plot so much the better. Needless to say the latter-day emergence of producer concept and regietheater has led to some weird interpretation, which this present one could be considered.

Based on Michel Carré’s adaptation of his own stage play, Faust et Marguerite, the opera was composed for the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in the opéra comique tradition with spoken dialogue. However, Gounod’s intentions were butchered by the management, and the diva, with the result that the premiere in 1859 was not as the composer intended. Over the next ten years, as Faust was seen and acclaimed all over the world, Gounod added to and amended the score to meet the needs of various singers and managements. The ballet was added for production at the Paris Opéra as was the traditional requirement for productions at that venue. In consequence of the various changes there is no definitive version of the work. With much autograph material in private hands none seems likely.

In this production Director Stefano Poda takes on all roles in the design and staging process. His view is abstract with the stage dominated by a large substantial black ring with bleak stone like walls surrounding it. The ring tilts and moves from the horizontal to the vertical, the center area sometimes being used to illuminate some scenes with added pieces of scenery, whilst the circumference edge is thick enough to be walked on and is so when the ring is in the flat position as when Marthe propositions Méphistophélès . The ring dominates the action as it constantly changes position both within and between scenes.

As a musical performance, two people dominate. First, the conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, magnificently aided by the orchestra and idiomatic chorus Chorus of the Teatro Regio Turin. I have had the pleasure of hearing Nosedea conduct opera live and been impressed (see review). Since he has taken over as Music Director at Turin his scope has widened considerably, along with acclaimed appearances on the podium at the major opera houses. I venture to suggest that one does not need a magic eyeglass to see his future in a position at a leading international house. The second most impressive participant is the Russian Ildar Abdrazakov as Méphistophélès. He bestrides the stage with stature and vocal aplomb. His acting is a match for any, and his tonal beauty and characterisation dominate with the nuances of his voice and his body language.

While being refulgent in my praise of Ildar Abdrazakov, I must not sell the contribution of the other principals short. In the eponymous role Charles Castronovo sings with mellifluous tone, albeit with a little flutter in the passagio in his rending of the cavatina ‘Salut, demeure chaste et pure’. He is tasteful and considerate of his partner in the love duet, whilst she acts and sings with commitment and radiant purity of tone throughout. She is heard to particularly good effect in her singing of the ‘Song of the King of Thule’ as well as in the final trio. These principals are matched for singing and acting quality by both the so-called minor roles of Siébel, the en travesti would be suitor of Marguerite, sung with ideal purity of tone and acted demeanor by Moldovan soprano Irina Lungu, whose acted humiliation by Méphistophélès is masterful. As Marthe, Marguerite’s neighbour, who has to tolerate Méphistophélès’s conveying of the news of her husband, and despite her flaunting her assets to him is spurned by him, Samantha Korbey sings with vocal nuance and warm tone. Warmth of tone, but not lack of vocal strength is exhibited by Vasilij Ladjuk as Marguerite’s brother who callously condemns her fatal attraction by Faust. At times his tone is harsh to my ear.

Minor quirks and idiosyncrasies abound, Faust is not old but youthful from the onset for example; Méphistophélès’ treatment of the serried ranks of pregnant women may be deemed crude and cruel to the sensibilities of some. Despite such matters, including the modernity of costume and the quirks of staging, it works and is well appreciated by an enthusiastic audience at the conclusion.

Apart from some scenes being rather too darkly lit the idiosyncratic staging has cohesion and inner clarity. Sometimes Poda’s images are stark as after Marguerite’s defloration after giving herself to Faust and his failure to return at the start of act 4.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (Blu-ray): Michael Cookson



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