As some of you may know already, I am a big opera enthusiast. Faust is a favourite of mine, Carmen is my favourite French opera, but Faust is a very close second. The music is outstanding and Mephistopheles lives long in the memory.
Although I have many more productions to see, this 1973 Tokyo production is my favourite. I have also seen two productions from 2004 and 1989, one was uneven but enjoyable, the other while having a great set of principals was due to the stage direction disappointing. In terms of recordings, my favourite is the one with Freni, Domingo and Ghiaurov.
While I personally could have done without the Japanese sub-titles and sometimes the picture quality is a little faded, this production of Faust is excellent, and of the three productions I've seen so far this is the best when it comes to the stage direction, with the Jewel Song and Salut Demeure Chaste Et Pure wonderfully understated and the final trio quite intense come to think of it.
The costumes and sets are not too fancy yet are very atmospheric, Ghiaurov especially looks very imposing as Mephistopheles should do. The orchestra play absolutely beautifully particularly in Salut Demeure Chaste Et Pure and when and after the soldiers successfully repel Mephistopheles, and the inclusion of the Walpurgis ballet sequence is interesting. Paul Ethuin's conducting drags a little in the second act garden scene, but is overall smart, attentive and musical.
The performances are wonderful. Renata Scotto is a wonderful Margheurite, vocally it is one of her better performances in the more taxing roles she assumed. She has a beautiful big voice that is used with great musical shape, and is an outstanding actress playing the role with grace and charm.
Alfredo Kraus is equally impressive in the title role. Salut Demeure Chaste Et Pure shows vintage Kraus, beguiling fluency, ringing top notes, beautiful phrasing and a dashing appearance. He is perhaps not as good an actor as Scotto, but he is indeed a very expressive singer and actor.
Lorenzo Saccomani is perfect as Valentin, Margheurite's brother. His acting has a nobility and his voice is rich if not so secure in his breath control. His death scene is done with real poise too. Siebel and Marthe are superb, particularly Marthe played by Anna Di Stassio.
The star of the show is the Mephistopheles of the production, the great Bulgarian bass, Nicolai Ghiaurov. His interpretation may just lack the devilish quality of Christoff, Chaliapin and Reizen, but what a performance Ghiaurov, in one of his overall best roles gives. He sings with genuine bombast and superb colour especially in Le Veau D'or, is very imposing and has a wicked and witty presence, just hear how he sings and interprets Mephistopheles' mocking serenade.
The three leads are just electrifying in the final trio. In conclusion, truly excellent with so many brilliant assets outweighing the few minor cons. 9.5/10 Bethany Cox
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