on 20 September 2010
I've received this DVD today and have just watched it.
As an avid Royal Opera fan (I fly from Johannesburg to London once a year to go watch operas there) I expected a thought provoking, well performed and satisfying performance. I was not disappointed. Director David McVicar is known for his originality (anyone who has seen his Salome at the ROH will attest), some people don't like it, others adore it. This production takes place on the stage of an opera house (which seems to be that of the Royal Opera), literally and figuratively. The entire opera is presented as a dream of the composer.
The undoubted star is Bryn Terfel, who is a demonic but also comical Mephistopheles. He towers over all the other singers. In the fourth act he manages to instill terror as he taunts Marguerite.
Angela Gheorghiu is a beautiful Marguerite, and one can almost understand that a man would want to sell his soul to the devil for her. Her voice is strong and tender when necessary. David McVicar portrays her as going mad, and she does utter a chilling lunatic laugh when Valentin is killed.
Roberto Alagna as Faust acts and sings very well. As the opera progresses the production shows him consumed by the impact that his pact with the devil has had on Marguerite.
A highlight of the opera is the Ballet. The choreography is disturbing. It shows the just killed Valentin arriving in the afterlife, bewildered. Faust and Marguerite appear also, and this drives the real Faust to desperation. Marguerite, in the ballet, is portrayed pregnant, which I found very apt considering that in the next scene we find her condemned to death for killing the child she had with Faust. Meanwhile the women taunt Faust. Bryn Terfel is dressed as a woman in this scene. He looks truly horrible, highlighting, I think, the horror that Goethe tried to portray, which might be lost in today's times when we are not really frightened by the devil anymore.
The choir and orchestra play up to the high standard of the Royal Opera.
A final thought: the production shows the great new tradition of the Royal Opera to elevate the psychological aspects of opera and to delve into the hitherto unexplored aspects of the opera, making it a much more real life experience. Producer David McVicar shows the opera as a journey through the Paris of the 19th century, from a backwater to a happening place with cabarets and beautiful dancing girls. I found it thoroughly invigorating.
on 29 September 2010
This performance of Gounod's Faust from the Royal Opera House is nothing short of magnificent. At last for such a great opera, which has been badly served on DVD until now, we have a recording which does the work full justice. The cast is almost perfect and the performance is superb. The production is sheer quality from start to finish, with wonderful sets and costumes and a drama true to the original but with frequent reflections of the present era. This is a fully traditional production which is nevertheless entirely modern in outlook and execution.
The performers are outstanding, vocally fabulous as would be expected, but the great bonus here is that they are all excellent actors and also physically suited to their roles, which is no small consideration in opera. It is an accurate measure of Roberto Alagna's truly great performance that he reminds us that this opera is entitled 'Faust'. So often the eponymous character is overshadowed by Mephistopheles in performances of this work. Not so here, rather this is an almost perfect balance of equals. Bryn Terfel is, as would be expected, magnificent. He is menacing, humourous and subtle in equal measure, fully conveying the insidious evil of his character. One look or sneer from him conveys a world of meaning. Normally he would outshine all other performers in this opera, but not in this company. He is equalled by Alagna and Gheorghiu, both vocally and dramatically.
All the other performers are excellent too, but Simon Keenlyside is outstanding in his role as the war-weary Valentin, brother to Marguerite, and Sophie Koch is truly touching and vocally beautiful as Siebel, Faust's rival for Marguerite's love.
In the Act V ballet, five of the seven sections which Gounod wrote are performed as a brilliant parody of classical ballet. This brings out all the irony of Gounod's lovely ballet music played out as it is in the depths of depravity. The incongruity here is further heightened by Bryn Terfel's costume.
Under Antonio Pappano's direction the orchestra of the Royal Opera House play superbly, bringing out all the beauty, drama and subtlety of Gounod's great score. This is an absolutely classic performance and I doubt that it will be equalled let alone surpassed for many years to come.
on 12 July 2011
I have for as long as I can remember had a soft spot for Faust, it has some memorable arias, and the story rather fascinates me. I first bought the Ken Russell Weiner Staatsoper version, which I found self indulgent and disappointing. The singing was not amiss, but....
I next tried Teatro Coccia, with Rigosa as Mephistopheles, and apart from him I found it wanting on all counts.
Then I bought this one and wow, the casting, the singing, the sets, thay are all what I thought Faust should be. I shall not go into further detail as every artiste matches up to my expectations. I shall never buy another Faust a I am sure I would be Disappointed.
on 29 November 2011
No regrets whatsoever with this one. One of my favourite operas and this production is absolute tops. Gheorghiu has all the dramatic presence to make her the perfect Marguerite, her magnificent voice, her good looks, acting ability-Gosh! Valentin, although a lesser role, is beautifully performed by Keenlyside. Good acting and a wonderful voice. But the one who really steals the show is Terfel. He is so well cast in the role of Mephistopheles- his towering frame, powerful voice and cheeky malevolence really completely dominates this superb production. Alagna's portrayal of Faust is just ever-so-slightly lacking in credibility, but his performance still does him considerable justice. The orchestration is excellent(I can still feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing!) and full marks to Pappano. The costumes reflect the period in which the opera is set(thankfully- I hate up-dated versions of Opera or Shakespeare), and the sets, although not extravagant, perfectly reflect the atmosphere. The photography is very good with judicious use of the zoom, and the images are good. Even a five star rating has to accommodate at least one reservation, and mine is the debauched ballet scene towards the final calling to account of Faust. The corps de ballet appear to enjoy the bonking and are not quite as grotesque as they might be, but to see Terfel as a transvestite is rather more risible than disgusting! However, this is just a minor criticism. Do buy this one and get one for each of your friends!
on 21 October 2010
We saw this production live at Covent Garden, and although it is not our favourite opera by any means we were bowled over by the quality of singing, the orchestra and the production as a whole. When it became available on DVD we had to buy it and we have not been disappointed.
The production is full of life, the singers are all first rate and Antonio Pappano gets the very best out of the orchestra.
This is an accurate record of a most enjoyable evening, and one we shall return to again and again.
on 5 May 2013
This was the first opera I was taken to as a small boy of 10 or 11 after the war. The theatre was local and the singers not great stars; but I loved the music and story. This is the very best production I have had the good fortune to see. I love Gheorghiu's Margarita 7 and Alagna's Faust; but I could not help but love the rascally Mephistopheles of Bryn Terfel, who I have been following since I watched him in the Cardiff Singer of the Year. The staging is outstanding and for once; we have singers that can act out their parts. I have always been saddened by a performance where truly beautifully performed arias are accompanied by wooden movements and poses being struck upon the stage. Not in this production! Supporting parts are excellently played and the music is wonderful. Buy and immerse yourself
This recording of Faust, made at the Royal Opera in 2004, is essentially a traditional production and with believable settings within the context of the story. Importantly it a features a top calibre cast on top form under the expert baton of Antonio Pappano.
The main four characters are particularly impressive as one might hope for or expect. The larger than life role of Mephistopheles is ideally cast with Bryn Terfel physically dominating in a central role that enables him to make the most of his imposing presence. As he has demonstrated in his portrayal of Puccini's Scarpio, Terfel is very suited to darker roles and in this opera he has plenty of opportunity to show this to telling dramatic effect with convincing acting allied to an effortless mastery of the vocal challenges.
Simon Keenlyside is equally fine as a singer/actor and he brings an equally strong portrayal to his characterisation of Valentin. He is still very much in his prime, vocally and physically and this makes for a convincing interpretation of his military role.
Angela Gheorghiu brings her customary intensity to the role of Marguerite which dramatically must encompass the decline from innocence to insanity and then a rise to final redemption. This is not easy to portray convincingly and it is to Gheorghiu's credit that she is able to deliver these dramatic challenges so well while still completely delivering on the vocal aspects of the role.
However, the most central role of all must be that of the title role of Faust. This brings a remarkable performance from Roberto Alagna who delivers what must be one of his finest performances to date. He too is fully in control of the vocal demands of the part and also of the shifting dramatic nuances of the role. He is also in good physical shape and is able to bring an extra dimension of genuinely fit athleticism to the portrayal.
The supporting roles of Siebel, Marthe and Wagner are well delivered by Sophie Koch, Della Jones and Matthew Rose respectively and Pappano is on top form as conductor. The orchestra is very fine and responds to every demand without fail. The choreography and dancers are suitably effective as appropriate as is the chorus contribution.
The booklet provides an interesting description and coverage of historical background detail.
The camera work is fully involving but the predominately dark settings have led to rather over-contrasty imaging which might be the result of over-sharpening at the production stage of the processing. This is the weakest part of this product. The sound is excellent on the other hand and is presented in both DTS 5.1 and stereo options.
Overall this is a very strong portrayal of Faust given by a top quality cast and in a believable setting. The recording is sonically good but the imaging could be described as a touch disappointing for 2004 standards. This might be rectified on a future reprocessing if the problem is simply that of over-sharpening. However it is also possible that this would not be a matter of concern for those not involved professionally with photography.
Musically and dramatically this clearly gave the audience present on 19th June 2004 much satisfaction. I would suggest that it is equally likely that most purchasers of this disc would feel the same way and that it is certainly worth seriously considering as a potential purchase.
on 15 July 2013
This production works on all levels including Mr Terfel appearing in drag for the queens and courtesans ball (to my mind the Devil can appear in any guise and what better than dressing like one of those sirens to join in with the festivities). To begin with I was not sure of the updating of the action to the 19th century but that soon ceased to be a problem as I was swept away by the story. What can you say about the cast? They were all on top form and produced a glorious sound from start to finish accompanied by the ROH's orchestra who produced their own sumptuous noise. I do think the ROH orchestra is the best when it comes to opera recordings on both cd's and dvd's. I would also make mention of the fantastic scenics which also made a great impact to the enjoyment of this performance. I would recommend this production unreservedly to anyone looking for a first class rendition of an old stalwart.
This Royal Opera House production of Gounod's Faust has to be an all time great. It would be hard to fault it in any way. It's riveting to watch from beginning to end and it's the kind of production one would watch over and over again and never tire of it. There are two 16:9 discs with a total 180 minutes running time. They played well on my Blu-Ray player and I couldn't see anything wrong with the picture quality. Even if there was I wouldn't deduct a star for it because I'm reviewing the opera, not the disc.
One of the joys of this production is that the cast are all equally good. Everyone is giving of his/her best and what 'bests' they are! The orchestration is inspiring with the conductor, Antonio Pappano his usual inspiring self. Angelo Gheorghiu as Maruerite has to be one of her greatest roles, Roberto Alagna is a great Faust and Bryn Terfel excels as Mephistopheles. Simon Keenlyside is perfect as Valentin and Sophie Koch (Siebel), Della Jones (Marthe) and Matthew Rose (Wagner) are all on top form. The staging and costumes were of the best and the diabolical ballet in Act 5 could not have been performed better. It's here that we see Bryn Terfel presented as a female version of Mephistopheles. Very interesting!
One can only imagine that Gounod would be delighted with this production of his masterpiece. I could go into lots more detail including a resume of the storyline, but it's a very well known one, besides which those who don't know it will enjoy themselves more by finding it out as they watch this brilliant production. And please, good people, don't allow any adverse comments about the picture quality of the disc phase you. Most of us who have watched it on its two discs are not bothered by it; otherwise it wouldn't have received such a cascade of five star reviews. In short, it really is an all time great production of an all time great opera.
on 15 October 2010
I saw this production alive and liked it despite its quirkiness. On video, it looks even quirkier, thanks to the use of not always so flattering close-ups. The idea is to move the action, based mostly on a late-romantic, conventionally operatic reading of Goethe's immortal work, to the times of Renoir, Monet, Degas, and Toulouse Lautrec. So no spinning wheel nor plaits for Marguerite, even though in one scene the devil wears his traditional demonic attire - but only to go to a masked ball. The sets are impressive too, and so is the choreography by Michael Keegan-Dolan, one of the most controversial dance and performance makers of our time - his "acted" version of the Romantic ballet Giselle set in Ireland was a triumph. Never seen many dance makers able to turn Faust's well known pompous waltz (thus a 3/4) into a cancan ( a dance that is normally in 2/8). Not to mention the splendid Giselle-like ballet at the end, complete with cannibalism...
There are not many recordings of Faust on DVD, and this is, arguably, the best you can get. Roberto Alagna was here still at the peak of his career, long before the Aida scandal in Italy. His voice and his phrasing are superb, as demonstrated in the tenor's big aria "Salut demeure chaste et pure". Angela Gheorgiu is also perfect, despite that hideous blonde wig that accentuates her strong features and detracts from her beauty - making her look like the Big Bad Wolf disguised as a shepherdess in Disney's original Three Little Pigs. Luckily her intensely dramatic as well as sparkling singing - check her out in the Jewels Aria or in the great love duet - make you forget the wig and the Big Bad Wolf unintentional impersonation. The idea is to maker her look like the central figure in Monet's Bar Aux Folies Bergeres, one of the masterworks of Impressionism. But that, in my view, does not work that well. Simon Kennlyside is astonishing as Valentin - his "Avant de partir" will make you melt. Sophie Koch, in the rather ungrateful travesty role of Siebel adds a new dimension to the usually two-dimensional character. The devil is Bryn Terfel, and there could not be a better one. Every appearance of his is a scene-stealer, although he never impinges with his charisma and great voice on the others - as, for instance, some predecessors of his used to do at the end of the love duet, covering the music and the final lines with a never ending, hammish laughter. As for the orchestra, Pappano elicits all the late Romanticism you can wish for from the score. All in all it is great fun and the only digestible way to see Faust these days....