Von Goethe's famous story of Faust has been retold in several versions. Hector Berlioz's dramatic musical version - which he insisted is NOT an opera - is vividly brought to life here. This production was staged at the Salzburg Festival in 1998 and conductor, designers, director and cast all deserve only the highest accolades. Puritans (as in the case of Dvorak's Rusalka starring Reneé Fleming) might object to the 'modernity' of the staging. However, it is sheer brilliance and underlines the context, subtext and substance of the libretto and score in every aspect. Never has hell looked so magnificent and enticing, yet repulsive. And heaven, added like an unwanted coda, brings tears to the eyes. Vesselina Kasarova as Margarethe (although her acting borders on hamming) conveys all the nuance of the character both in voice and gesture. She is truly great. So is Paul Groves as Faust. The scene where he gets intoxicated on everything Méphistophélès (a stupendous Willard White) promises, as symbolised by Faust smoking an opium pipe, is unforgettable. Many a Hollwood actor would (SHOULD!) envy him the dreamlike, sleepy look in the eyes - proof that honesty is always reflected in the mirrors of the soul. To give away anything about the decor, costumes and direction would be to spoil any viewer's joy of discovery. The chorus, including a boys' choir, does not display the usual amateurish acting of opera choruses. Here they are a coherent whole in a stylised, stylish portrayal of mankind in general. Some of the scenes (let alone the singing and the superb accompaniment by the orchestra as well as the orchestral interludes) simply take one's breath away. This is available on DVD (ArtHauS label) and should be included in any serious music and art film lover's collection. Berlioz wrote some of the world's greatest music for this Faust.
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