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Gounod: Faust - Vienna State Opera (Binder) [DVD] [2006] [NTSC]

Ken Russell    Exempt   DVD
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: £24.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Product details

  • Directors: Ken Russell
  • Format: AC-3, Box set, Classical, Colour, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, DVD-Video, NTSC
  • Language: French, English, German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: Deutsche Grammophon
  • DVD Release Date: 10 July 2006
  • Run Time: 176 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000B8ISPA
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 90,966 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


Product Description

Ken Russell's production of Charles Gounod's opera from the Vienna State Opera in 1985. The performers include Francisco Araiza, Ruggero Raimondi and Gabriela Benacková. Erich Binder conducts.

Product Description

Faust (2 Dvd)

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taking Liberties, but not too bad 7 Oct 2012
The opening set is impressive, but the introduction staging puzzled me. When Araiza sings his Faust it catches the ear. Raimondi is a fine baritone and most enjoyable. The transformation of Faust is nicely done with a vision of Marguerite.
In scene 2 there is a good chorus with much dancing, Gronrods as Valentin is not bad but his voice does not quite suit my ear. Credulity ceases for a while as during the cavatina Marguerite is ordained as a nun. The dancing and chorus is spectacular and enjoyable. Towards the end of the act we are introduced to Benackova, a mellow mezzo, singing Marguerite, but a nun !
In act 2 Siebel by Sima is a delight to listen to and makes quite a reasonable young man. He/She is accompanied by a whispy ballet, irrelevant but nice. Martha is quite acceptable as sung by Jahn. There are bits of ballet throughout the act some seem reasonable but others were obstrusive or daft.
Act 3 is rather more to the point, and is the best presented of the three acts.
In scene 2 we are in church, the transformation is rather good with a great classical organ. Oh, and in this version Mephistopheles cancelled Valpurgis Night.
Scene 3 is in a forbidding prison, the chorus excels in this section, and the story moves relentlessly to Marguerites salvation, and Faust being claimed by Mephistopheles.
The sound throughout is excellent and well balanced. The picture quality is hardly top notch, being woolly round the edges.
The booklet is informative and reasonably comprehensive.
This is better overall than the Teatro Coccia with Rota, but the Royal Opera House with Pappano, Gheorghiu and Alagna is my much preferred version.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This visual production joins the growing list of nihilistic efforts to contaminate the soul of opera. The tactics are familiar by now --- a first rate cast to satisfy the ear, while the stage production does all it can to destroy, for the eye and the judgment, the very world the music and the lyrics are indicating. The intention is to replace beauty with ugliness, and replace moral poise with various forms of collapse, and none of this in keeping with the outlook of the music. For a detailed inventory of how Gounod's lovely opera has been desecrated by this stage production, see the many viewer criticisms on the American Amazon website ( The American viewers are far less complacent than the opinions given here, and they are numerous enough to give prospective buyers a well rounded view, replete with specifics, before a buying decision is made and money splashed out. Alas, Gounod's lovely opera has been skinned alive and salt poured into its wounds by this stage production.

Everybody agrees the singing is first rate. It's the ugly staging and the jeering at the finer aspects of the story that is so disagreeable and repellent. With the Jewel Song, we see Marguerite (as a black garbed nun!) greedily grabbing jewels with avarice and rejoicing at the gleam added to the front of her habit, spinning around to grab for more, as if seeking a second winning lottery ticket, we lose all sense of her delicacy and quiet joy at being noticed by someone as unattainable as the dashing, young Faust. Compare this traducing of Marguerite's purity with Gounod's and, in the same vein, with Schubert's delicate song of her heart stopping when she catches just a glimpse of his noble form ("sein edler Gestalt").
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ken Russell's Faust 16 Jan 2012
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I was glad to be able to buy a DVD of this marvellous production, as I used to own it on a very poor quality video.The singers are very exciting, especially Raimondi's Mephistopheles, and the ideas are interesting to say the least!
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Ken Russell special 20 Feb 2011
This is a Ken Russell special. A brilliant production of Faust featuring Marguerite as a nun, who, you've guessed it is seduced and defiled by Faust. Ken Ruessell is in his element here dealing with the devil himself Mepistopheles. Great singing from principals and chorus.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.9 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
86 of 90 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bizarre and Misdirected Interpretation of Faust 7 Sep 2006
By Charles Beck - Published on
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This live performance (1985) from Vienna's famous State Opera House has a solid cast, except for the director. Araiza and Benackova have the appropriate lyric voices for Faust and Marguerite. Araiza performs a very sensitive and worshipful cavatina, "Salut! Demeure." Benackova does her best to express an innocent excitement upon viewing herself with a crown of jewels in the famous "Jewel Song," but it seems out of place with her nun's attire. (Yes, in Act II, she is packaged as a nun!) Raimondi has a smooth and strong voice, even though he lacks the devilish and sarcastic coloring of the late Nicolai Ghiaurov. The picture (somewhat grainy), and the sound quality are superior to the current list of Faust DVD's. For the most part, the sets are impressive--but not necessarily appropriate--and rather somber. The opera opens and closes in Faust's spacious study with a symbolic view of the sky and higher realm. The opera often resembles a ballet as dancers appear as apparitions to accompany the vocalists.

In the notes that accompany the DVD, we learn that the director, Ken Russell, wanted to make the seduction of Marguerite, in his words, less "silly" and more "realistic" and "vivid." (It should be noted that Russell's reading, assuming he read Goethe's first part, is at odds with most reviews of Faust.) To add "realism" to Faust's conquest and Marguerite's punishment, there are some symbolic sets, costumes, and scenes that will strike many viewers as rather bizarre and sometimes offensive. To prepare the viewer, here are a few examples of why this production was very controversial. Instead of an attractive vision of Marguerite in front of a spinning wheel, we see a rather unalluring image of a woman sending a cryptic message by way of sign language--probably not the kind of image that would have prompted the aging Faust to sign a contract with the devil. In the famous and romantic garden scene, Marguerite appears fully dressed as a nun, and her garden is paved in stone rather than plants. Apparently, her religious habit is not very disconcerting to the arduous Faust because, after their duet, we see them rolling together on the pavement, in one of the strangest seduction scenes in the history of opera. Finally, Russell decides to focus on Marguerite's punishment for murdering her illegitimate child rather than her pardon and redemption. Instead of angels bearing her spirit heavenward, we see and hear the sound of a guillotine. In the closing scene, Faust is back in his study and seated in front of Marguerite's casket. As a morbid reminder of their indiscretions, a headless corpse rises and falls inside the casket.

Symbolic sets, costumes, and scenes serve a very useful purpose when they clarify and enhance the spirit of the story and nature of the characters. Unfortunately, Russell's symbolism distorts what both Goethe and Gounod had in mind, and they probably would have strongly disapproved of Russell's alterations to the theme and depiction of Marguerite. For example, both Goethe and Gounod focused on Marguerite's redemption and not her punishment, and neither one of them would have pictured her as a nun in a bizarre seduction scene. Goethe once claimed that his nature was too conciliatory to compose a true tragedy. The end of the second part reunites the lovers in heaven to the devil's disappointment. Gounod has been criticized, often unfairly, for not following the classic poem more closely. In order to produce a popular and entertaining opera, Gounod did leave out sections of the story, but he remained true to the spirit of Goethe's Faust. In addition to being a composer of operas and religious music, Gounod was a literary scholar who wrote reviews. No doubt there is an audience for Russell's attempt to revise one of the greatest poetic masterpieces in literature--probably the same audience who would like to see Mephistopheles dressed as a priest and conducting the sacraments. However, more knowledgeable fans of the poem and opera are likely to find his revisions disconcerting and inappropriate. This production is probably worth four stars if you are willing to overlook the director's misconceived symbolism. Alas, it appears that Faust lovers will have to continue to wait for an outstanding production of Gounod's great opera on DVD.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. 14 Jan 2007
By R. P. Romanelli - Published on
The famous ballet scene was omitted. They made Margeurite a nun which she never was, and it just doesn't work. Worst of all, they altered the original ending which depicted forgiveness and salvation (visually and in words and music)into a visually ghastly, gruesome scene totally inconsistent with the celestial music. Such changes to a masterpiece, whether it be a famous opera, as here, or to a Rembrandt cannot be justified, whether under a banner of "creativity" or any other.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It makes a great CD. 16 Feb 2007
By CathyB - Published on
Great listening, but the production is so poorly conceived and gimicky that it is impossible to watch. A terrible disappointment.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for what it is 15 Oct 2010
By Sam Cotten - Published on
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This production of Gounod's masterpiece was clearly not created with the intention of being perfectly traditional, and I'm sure the director was prepared to offend some viewers with this idea of his. I purchased this DVD because I really wanted a filmed production, and this was one of the few available. I read what a lot of other viewers said about this particular production, and I was actually intrigued by what was said. The production certainly is different, and a few of the ideas are pretty out there.

What most people seem to dislike about this the most is the ending, but I believe they probably misunderstood it. The booklet inside the DVD case has a synopsis, and it still says that Marguerite goes to heaven at the end. What happens in this production is that instead of showing Marguerite's ascension to heaven, it cuts back to Faust, old again and suddenly waking up in his study from Act I. It then shows him standing up and wandering around, as if it had all been just a dream, then he opens the coffin that was laid there at the beginning, and Marguerite's headless corpse sits up and points a finger at him, just like all the other characters had pointed a finger at her in the church scene earlier. After this, Faust is embraced by what looks like a grim reaper, then sinks into the earth as he is dragged off to hell. What it seems people want to see at the very end of this opera is Marguerite's ascention into heaven. My guess is that this director figured that much was told by the music, and so Faust's fate was what should be depicted, which would be damnation. It is a darker, more grim ending, but I have to admit, if given a chance for what it is, I'd say it's actually a decent production. It certainly won't please everybody, but it certainly has its moments of being quite interesting.

One thing I doubt anyone will dispute about it is that the singers are wonderful. Francisco Araiza beautifully performs the title role; I believe he is perfect for it. He beautifully hits the high C in "Salut, demeure, chaste et pure", which is an impressive feat for any tenor, as far as I am concerned. Ruggero Raimondi is a fantastic Méphistophélès, as well. I, personally, prefer the role when played by a bass-baritone rather than a deep bass, and his voice is a good fit for it, in my opinion. There is an optional high note that I like, but he doesn't take in the first act, but I believe it is not often taken, anyway. Gabriela Benyachkova certainly performs the role as well as she could, and I give her credit for her input. She certainly has a fine voice, but I personally prefer the role to be portrayed by someone smaller and/or younger. Marguerite is depicted in the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré as a sweet, innocent little girl who has never committed sin or impurity until her encounter with Faust. As fine a singer as she is, I believe Benyachkova is a little too old to portray it the way it was traditionally intended to be done. When she is made a nun, though, she is more convincing as a character. I have to admit, however, I do not particularly like to see a little boy like Siebel falling in love with a nun the way he does in this production. As for the rest of the cast, Walton Grönroos is a very good Valentiin, and hits the high Gs beautifully

The idea of making her purity be due to the fact that she was a nun could potentially be passable, but I it isn't easy to make it work, mostly because of Siebel being in love with her, too. I acknowledge Ken Russell's attempt, though. It is could be interesting that Faust would end up falling in love with nun who is older, as he is still just an old doctor in a young lord's body, and perhaps the fact that she is a nun could show how Faust has it buried back in his conscience that he still believes in God and regrets what he has done. This is could be backed up by the fact that he is rude to Méphistophélès throughout the opera (constantly yelling things at him like "Va t'en!", which means "Go away!"), despite the work he does as Faust's servant.

There are some traditional elements of this opera that I hate to see go, including Marguerite's traditional portrayal, but the opera certainly has its moments. There were, however, a couple of things I admit I did not like, such as the placement of the Church Scene at the end of Act IV (after Valentin's death instead of before). This is not the point at which it occurs in the libretto, and it is even reinforced that it should not be where it is by the fact that Act IV Scene I (which is often omitted) is included in this production (which, by the way, I found surprising and worth appreciating; a scene included that is usually not is interesting to me) However, Marguerite says, "I'm going to the church to pray for my child and for him" at the end of this scene, which implies that she is going to the church after this. This suggests that the Church scene is about to happen, and audiences do not get to hear this scene performed often, anyway. Also, during Valentin's Death, he repeats, "Marguerite, soit maudite!", which Méphistophélès also sings in the Church Scene on a similar musical motive. I like it better when Valentin's is said afterward as a reference to what Marguerite heard in the church, rather than Méphistophélès' being a reference to Valentin's. The traditional placement of these scenes works better dramatically than the way done in this production, which is not very good writing. I also found it annoying that Marguerite is executed by the guillotine. Maybe historical accuracy was not much of a concern for the director, but it should be well-known enough that such an instrument was only used in public executions during the French Revolution. It's too big an anachronism for me to be willing to just ignore.

Since Act IV Scene I is included, I would like to have heard Siebel's aria, "Si Le Bonheur", and I was disappointed not to. However, I can forgive it's deletetion, as it usually is, anyway. Also, in Méphistophélès' "Song of the Golden Calf" ("Le veau d'or"), Raimondi accidentally sings the second verse twice. This, however, would only be noticeable to an opera singer or a musician who knows the piece extremely well, and it's still well sung, so I forgive him.

It would also have been nice to see the Walpurgis Night scene, but this is rarely performed in modern productions, anyway. I really wish the unions would not charge opera companies extra to use the house for longer; if it weren't for this, it would be possible for them to give longer productions, which might allow such scenes to be included. The Walpurgis Night scene is referenced in the recitative immediately proceeding Méphistophélès' serenade, and it is a fine sounding piece of music; I really wish I could see a production in which it would be included. Perhaps it may seem like a financial risk, but I believe that it would be a good idea to do it if a production is being filmed. People would much rather have more scenes to watch on a DVD that are not usually performed.

Overall, this production is good enough to get a 4/5 from me. It's not perfect, and it's certainly not exactly what everyone wants to see when they go to see Gounod's amazing work that was once the most frequently performed opera in all of Europe, but for what it is, it has it's good points, and I can find plenty of things about it that deserve to be appreciated.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the best production, but worth seeing and listening none the less. 25 Sep 2012
By Abert - Published on
I had great misgivings about this performance dating back to 1985 upon reading the various reviews, so even if I've got hold of this DVD for some years, I did not muster the courage to view it. Having seen the MET HD production recently (with Kaufmann, Pape and Poplavskaya), I finally took the pains to view this `horrendous' production.
To call this production an `opera of horror' is quite an apt word - the very first scene of Act I evokes horror as the aged Faust tries unsuccessfully to `resuscitate' a dead girl that he wants to get. As the plot evolves, more horror follows, namely the `seduction' of Marguerite is being presented as the seduction of a chaste nun. All these, I gather, are the director Ken Russell's doing. Throughout the performance, the sets are gloomy, with some choregraphy that are aptly eerie.
I hadn't heard Araiza singing anything else than Mozart, Donizetti and Rossini, and I hadn't heard Gabriela Beňačková in this role of Marguerite. Here we have a performance from the Vienna State Opera, with the plot based on Goethe but significantly embellished by the Director.
This performance is unique in one sense - while Raimondi as Méphistophélès is as good as you would expect, his voice is not as plangent as most other portrayals, notably that of Ghiaurov, Siepi, or Pape, more recently. In comparison, this `Devil' is not able to over-power Dr. Faustus!
Faust is traditionally a role for lyrical tenors (Kraus, then Beczala, but to name two). Ariaza is marvellous as Faust, having changed over from lyrical tenor to lirico spinto, he rises to the challenges of the title role admirably. His dark tenor voice is still able to tackle the high tessitura required of Faust's role, and he handles the vocal requirements of the role with greater apparent ease than Jonas Kaufmann, the current spinto tenor by choice, if a spinto tenor is required at all for the role of Faust.
The late Walton Grönroos copes with the role of Marguerite's brother, Valentin. Siebel, described as a student of Faust, is sung by Gabriele Sima, quite well, as is Martha, Marguerite's neighbour, by Gertrude Jahn.

Gabriela Beňačková as Marguerite is clearly competent: she can cope with the florid singing in the Jewel Aria, she has the high notes and certain power with them, and everything between. A tour-de-force in the league of the more recent Solie Isokoski, if not as outright distinguished as Marina Poplavskaya in the recent MET HD production.

The conductor Erich Binder generally makes a good job, but the first duet between Faust and Méphistophélès is too fast, while the Scene of Marguerite in the Song of the King of Thule is too dragging.
The picture quality is not the same as we have used to with more recent productions, but it's not bad either. The sound is perfectly good. It certainly isn't a top-grade production, but not nearly as bad as most reviewers would have it.
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