Ten short pieces directed by ten different directors, including Ken Russell, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, and Nicolas Roeg. Each short uses an aria as soundtrack/sound (... See full summary »
Three short stories come to the screen, each focused on a man and a woman. The first is set in the 1940s, the other two in the 1920s. In "The Man in a Brooks Brothers Suit," a businessman ... See full summary »
Amazing music and excellent Araiza and Benackova, but the symbolism distracts, the staging distorts and Raimondi underwhelms
I love opera, I love Gounod and I love Faust. The story compels, Mephistopheles lives long into the memory and the music from Le Veau D'Or, the Jewel Song, Salut Demeure Et Chaste Pure, the mocking serenade and the final trio is amazing.
While this production is not completely terrible, I found myself not liking it very much. It is seen as a controversial production and I can see why, which I'll get to later.
For a great Faust production, I recommend the 1973 Tokyo production. The Japanese subtitles and less than outstanding picture quality may not appeal to everybody, however even with these they don't take away from the strong production values, wonderful orchestral playing and conducting, vivid staging without anything to distract from it and three outstanding leads especially Nicolai Ghiaurov.
The 2004 Royal Opera House production is also worth watching. David McVicar's staging is an example of people loving it and others hating it, I personally didn't mind it though I questioned the part where Terfel took off his cloak to reveal a sparkling evening dress(almost like a Broadway send-up), but Antonio Pappano's conducting is enthusiastic and done with finesse, and while the leads all have the odd rocky moment(excepting Keenlyside) they do excel.
Back to this production, there are some good things. The costumes are generally good and the sets are suitably sombre and look very impressive. The orchestra play with a powerful sound yet also with wit and musicality, and the conducting is never too rushed or plodding. The only disappointment was Le Veau D'Or, which just needed to be more exciting. The chorus are well sung and balanced if not always very animated.
Francisco Araiza has a wonderful lyric tenor voice, and I think he is perfect as Faust. He gives one of his more believable performance acting-wise, and his Salut Demeure Et Chaste Pure is a very sensitive and musical performance where he hits the high C with no problem at all.
Gabriela Benackova is eluded by some of the most ineffective staging of the entire production, but even that doesn't stop her from giving a wholly acceptable Margheurite. She like Araiza has the ideal lyric voice for the role, she is touching and she manages to be innocent and exciting in her Jewel Song.
Walton Gronroos is very good as Valentin. He is commanding and hits some great top Gs. However there are also some things I didn't like very much. Although the costumes and sets are fine, I did find the picture quality grainy and also the sound distorted, giving the singers and orchestra playing an unnatural quality to it.
I admire Ruggero Raimondi, but as Mephistopheles I found him underwhelming. Don't get me wrong, Raimondi has a good smooth voice and is an extraordinary actor which is perfect for Don Giovanni, Escamillo and Scarpia, but apart from Basilio(Il Barbiere Di Siviglia) and Silva(Ernani) he doesn't work for me in bass roles where his tone sounds forced and underpowered.
By all means his performance here is better than his bass solo in Bernstein's Verdi Requiem performance and his King Phillip and Ramfis, here his tone is smoother and less static. However I would have still preferred a darker and a more basso voice, Raimondi's low notes lack resonance and verge on sharp. This is especially true for the mocking serenade, and I was also disappointed in his Le Veau D'Or where his French sounds quite poor(I think he even forgot the words at one point). His acting fares better, there is a lot of charisma though it could have been more devilish and sarcastic.
The symbolism is also very distracting. In an attempt perhaps to bring more realism to Faust's conquest and Margheurite's punishment there are touches that are really quite bizarre and distasteful. I would say the same with the staging as well, which at quite a number of points in the production distorts the meaning of Goethe and Gounod.
One was the not so attractive image of a woman sending a cryptic message by sign language, which to be honest is not my idea for prompting Faust to sign a contract with the devil. Another was the idea to replace Margheurite's salvation with the sound of a guillotine, which is basically the antithesis of what it's meant to be. Also of note was the closing scene, the image shown with the headless corpse was pretty ghastly in all honesty and did not fit at all with the music. Faring worst though was the Garden scene, Paved stone instead of plants and Margheurite as a nun should give you some idea, though that wasn't the most distasteful thing about it. That was the image of Faust and Margheurite rolling together on the ground, Ken Russell's idea of a seduction no doubt. Safe to say that is a contender for the strangest seduction of all seductions of any opera.
All in all, disappointing and misdirected. Thank goodness for the music, the orchestra, Araiza and Benackova, without them this production could have been worse than it actually was. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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