Could have been much better visually, but the musicality and performances are superb
I have loved opera all of my life, ever since hearing La Traviata for the first time with Sutherland, Bergonzi and Merrill. Faust is a terrific opera, Gounod's music is fantastic with many highlights and the characters(especially Mephistopheles) and story are equally memorable. This is a good production. The 1973 Tokyo performance with Scotto, Kraus and Ghiaurov is my personal favourite DVD of Faust, once you get past some grainy picture quality and the subtitles. The 2004 Royal Opera House performance is also worth seeing even if it is uneven. The worst I've seen was the controversial 1985 production marred by distracting symbolism and staging.
Visually, this is the let down of this Faust. I couldn't tell whether the stage was too dark or whether the production was darkly lit, whatever it was it was dark in that there were times you couldn't always see what was happening. The video quality isn't much better, too static. The costumes and sets are not too bad, but the production was too dark to make me fully enjoy them. The camera work has moments where it was good but some close ups show some very blocked and mechanical movements in the chorus which detracted from the drama. The sound is surprisingly good though, though there are moments where the principals sound distant.
Musically it fares much better. The orchestra play powerfully, lyrically and stylishly. Perhaps there are a couple of times where they are slightly ahead of the singing, but I couldn't tell really whether it was true of the performance or just the case of bad sync. Alain Guingal's conducting is authoritative and musical. The staging is very good, Margherite's Jewel Song and Faust's Salut Demure Et Chaste Pure are understated, Mephistopheles' Le Veau D'Or and Serenade are mocking and twisted but the revelation was the final trio which has lost none of its intensity and power.
The ballet sequences(what a delight they were included) I also liked. The choreography is is great, and despite the odd mechanical movement the dancers perform this choreography with musicality, efficiency and grace. The performances are wonderful. Of the supporting singers, the most consistent was Roberto Coviello, who makes a beautifully sung Valentin. Ambra Vespasiani is alluring as Siebel, Wilma Colla is a well characterised Marta and Tito Turtura is very good as Wagner.
It is the principals that captivate though. Anna Maria Gonzales has the appropriate lyric voice for Margherite and sings with a beautiful tone. She also manages to make us believe in the tragedy of her role. Alfredo Kraus really does shine in one of his signature roles. This may not quite be Kraus at his best, but the ringing top, sumptuous tone, beautiful phrasing and striking musicality as well as charming and not too stolid acting is evident. Salut Demure Et Chaste Pure is a real showstopper. Carrying the day, with a resonant voice and a sarcastic and menacing presence is Nicolai Ghiuselev, who for me is the best Mephistopheles on DVD after Ghiaurov.
All in all, musically superb with a great cast, but it could've been better visually. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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