To date- this is by far the only DVD of this opera (in a sparse field) that I heartily recommend.
This 2010 recording of Gounod's Faust comes from the Royal Opera House. It stars Roberto Alagna as Faust, Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite and Bryn Terfel as Mephistopheles. Sophie Koch portrays the lovesick Siebel and Simon Keenlyside plays Marguerite’s brother Valentin. All of them are in top voice and their acting is suitably convincing.
Faust was for years the world’s favourite opera- it’s lovely melodies and classic story of trading one’s soul to the devil for youth with the final redemption for innocence lost seemed perfectly suited to a world long gone.
During the 20th Century interest in Faust waned as many companies enjoyed the growing box office draw of the Verdi then Puccini masterpieces and for many years performances were few and far between. This dearth of performances led to some wonderful sound recordings but very few filmed performances and those that were, are filled with challenges that make them less than totally satisfactory for repeated viewings.
The Renato Scotto one, filmed in Japan has sound problems and minimalist sets with burned in Japanese subtitles make it an interesting offering but not inspiring, despite the excellent reading by Scotto – the Ken Russell directed one is challenging to the point where the strangeness is distracting.
In adding a creditable filmed performance to my DVD collection I wanted one that would put the music front and centre with reasonable production values – and this one certainly does it. With all the advantages of modern recording the sound is sumptous and the production is excellent overall. Those who do not like the production for any reason will at least not find it bad. The update is intelligent and almost always spectacular.
With several of today’s biggest stars in a recent production with all the advantages of modern recording technology - and roles particularly suited to their voices, I knew before I even viewed it as long as the production didn’t grossly offend, it would stand a good chance of being at the top of the best versions of this opera- and it does! Whilst I’m always a great fan of the traditional I don’t mind experiencing a more modern view when it adds something to the presentation and to my mind this production by David McVicar certainly does that. It is full of almost iconic immagery of scenes that are familiar to us- one moment there is a touch of My Fair Lady- in another a touch of West Side Story- but you will barely realise it on first viewing because it is subtle enough that nothing distracts from the presentation.
When played “traditional” Marguerite sits in a garden at a spinning wheel while Mephistopheles prances around in the medieval garb of pointy hats and shoes. It is hard to find him malevolent. In this production Bryn Terfel is far more sinister hovering threateningly always with lank hair he more resembles something one might pass in any dark alley of any city today. He is a powerful threatening presence- vocally as authoratative as ever and with one appearance in drag conjours perfectly an image of sexual ambiguity that adds to the feeling of disquiet. It is a dimension to the role that would have been unthinkable had it been played solely traditional.
Roberto Alagna is a wonderful Faust- his voice is ideally suited to this fach and he makes the most of it, recieving well deserved enthusiastic applause at the end of his big arias.
So too, the beauty and timbre of Angela Gheorghiu's voice is ideally suited to the role of Marguerite - it sits beautifully in her range - smoothe at the bottom and secure and lovely at the top.
As Valentin it is a treat to have Simon Keenlyside, one of the most popular baritones in the world today, peform this role. His rendition of "Avant de quitter..." is wonderful.
To sum up- in a very short field- this performance stands out as one to definitely have in your collection. It is a fine example of why The Royal Opera continues to be a company that frequently gives the best there is in the world of opera.