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In `Man and His Music', the late Wilfred Mellers wrote that Gounod and Massenet were two opera composers who fulfilled the cultural demands of the new bourgeoisie of the second half of the nineteenth century: "Aristocratic hauteur and visionary splendours and sorrows were not for them. They wanted an art that would flatter their opulence and promote daydreams, as a relief from the cares involved in getting richer." He describes Gounod's waltz music from his `Faust' as "a footling tune, as redolent of the tawdry, gas-lit glamour of the Parisian theatre as it is remote from Goethe." Mellers is here being perceptive but perhaps also a little unfair.
Whilst by no means the original teller of the tale, Goethe's `Faust' must have been the supreme of nineteenth-century artistic inspirations, effecting virtually all composers in some way or another, from Berlioz and Liszt to Mahler and beyond. But Gounod's interpretation is deemed to be so "remote from Goethe" as to be called `Margarete' in Germany. It is true that Gounod's focus on the Marguerite's relationship with Faust is too heavy, and Faust's wooing and abandonment of Marguerite too long - I prefer Berlioz - but otherwise the opera is, as described by Hans-Christian Schmidt in the book that accompanies the discs, "submerged in an endless round of lyrical emotion."
Schmidt explains why there is no definitive version of this opera. This 1993 recording is based on Oeser and Zimmer's score of 1972, "whose plot is comprehensible and who musical structure makes sense." The main difference from the synopsis in, say Kobbe's opera guide is that the return of Valentin in act four comes before Marguerite's church scene. Read more ›
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