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Busoni, Doktor Faust:  Soloists, Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla. Coro de la Asociación de Amigos del Teatro de la Maestranza y  Coro Intermezzo. Conductor: Pedro Halffter. Teatro de la Maestranza de Sevilla. 21.10.2008. (JMI)


Production. Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Berlin.

Director: Peter Mussbach.

Sets. Erich Wonder.

Costumes: Andrea Schmidt-Futterer.

Lighting: Alexander Koppelmann.


Faust: Christopher Robertson.
Mefistófeles: Robert Brubaker.
Duchess of Parma: Mary Mills.
Wagner: Matthias Hölle.
Duke of Parma: José Ferrero.
Soldier: Mirko Janiska.

Within a  few days I had the opportunity to attend three opera performances that have several points in common.  All of them were opening opera seasons, were  composed in the first half of the last century and, finally, they are three magnificent musical works. I am referring to Toulouse’s Capitole, Barcelona’s Liceu and now Seville’s Maestranza. If the French city opened with Enescu’s Oedipus, and  Liceu’s choice was Tiefland, Seville decided to open with Busoni’s Doktor Faust, a real success in musical and stage terms. Three wonderful operas, hardly performed in Spain. In fact, this Seville’s Doktor Faust is the first ever Spanish performance, arriving here a modest 80 years late.

Doktor Faust is a posthumous opera by Ferruccio Busoni in a sense, having been premiered in Dresden one year after the composer’s death and  being completed by his friend and disciple  Philipp Jarnach. The presence of this masterpiece in the principal opera houses is certainly rare, having been given only in Berlin, Stuttgart and Zurich, in  recent years in addition to this  new production premiered last July  in Munich. Outside of  German speaking countries I can only remember it  being programmed  in San Francisco about  four years ago. Some argued that the opera’s prologue is tedious, but its music and the action (the libretto is also  Busoni’s) improves, from the Parma scene onwards, with many gorgeous musical moments.

The production comes from Berlin’s  Staatsoper Unter den Linden of Berlin, where it was premiered two years ago. Peter Mussbach’s work in this production seems to me his most interesting creation up  until now. He  offers a timeless, unreal, and I dare to say dream like vision of the action, with careful balance between the aesthetic elements and careful direction of the actors and chorus. Mussbach starts to fly high in Marguerite’s brother confession scene, a most original and attractive scene in the Duke of Parma’s  palace, where the historical characters appearing on stage are nothing less than Parma’s  Duchesses.  The scene in the  Wittenberg tavern with its  philosophical-religious discussion is one of the best examples of stage direction I have ever seen.  This is a modern production, full  of imagination, and a pleasure to the eye.

Pedro Halffter seems to find his natural territory in 20th century opera as we could heard in his outstanding versions of Der Ferne Klang and Krenek’s  Orpheus und Euridike. This time he produced a very good performance of Doktor Faust particularly  in the second part where he  was wonderful. His orchestra gave him excellent playing sharing the success with their conductor. The huge chorus that this opera requires was very well managed too.

This opera requires two great protagonists (Faustus and Mefistófeles), another two of relative importance (Wagner and the Duchess of Parma) and numerous secondary characters. The demands were not wholly met. Doctor Faustus is a baritone here and was interpreted by Christopher Robertson, who was slightly in vocal terms. He lacked vocal power for the role and his voice was poorly projected, scarcely audible in fact when singing  from the front of the stage.

Mefistófeles is a tenor and Robert Brubaker offered a very complete interpretation of the role. He was most convincing, and probably produced the  best work I have ever seen from him. Mary Mills was an excellent Duchess of Parma. This soprano is unjustly forgotten by the big opera houses:  she is a good singer, with an interesting lyric soprano  and is also an outstanding actress. Her greatest problem has always been her top register, but in this role the tessitura is not too high. Veteran bass Matthias Hölle doubled as Master of Ceremonies  and Wagner. Sadly, his voice is just a shadow of what it was.

In the secondary roles Jose Ferrero was a good Duke of Parma, and Mirko Janiska, an interesting soldier (Valentin in Gounod’s Faust).

The house had some empty seats  which  increased in number  after the intermission and at the end of the more than three hours, many in the audience left the theatre in a rush.. Those who remained gave a very warm reception  to the artists, with nothing less than  triumphs for Pedro Halffter and Robert Brubaker.

Jose M. Irurzun

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