16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
THEY FLED TO BLISS OR WOE,
This review is from: Berlioz: La Damnation De Faust [DVD]  (DVD)
This DVD has completed my conversion. All my life I have been used to Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust as a concert work, and I have had no particular view as to whether it would be suitable for staging. The stage-production here is controversial and even provocative, but it has left me in no doubt at all that the work does not reveal its full stature and significance unless it is enacted. That Berlioz was a maverick I take to be a truism. Here is one of the deepest and most searching parables surely in all literature. Goethe’s Faust is not a tragic hero in the Shakespearian sense, with a tragic failing leading to his downfall and death. He is a type of all mankind, embodying the maxim that Stapledon enunciated as Find your calling…or be damned. He is full of ennui, Weltschmerz and general alienation and dissatisfaction. He is not evil or corrupt, but he has hidden the talent that is death to hide, and he is largely a lost soul before Mephistopheles sees an easy prey and unerringly completes the process until all that is needed is his final signature, quickly and casually provided.
Heard and not seen, Berlioz’s Faust is largely a lyrical work. There are intermittent ‘effects’ indeed, and the final ride to the abyss seems to me one of the most thrilling in all music, understated as only a master of hyperbole and overstatement would know how to do; but an astonishing amount of the score is ‘absolute’ music more notable for melody than for overt drama and consisting in large part of instrumental interludes and songs. Now stage the work and see what happens. The music is transformed into a sublime commentary and magnification as the tragedy unfolds with neither haste nor delay. I took in the staging in an impressionistic way, not an analytical one. Were the strange milk-churns that Faust and the others carried on their backs their souls, their selves, or what were they? They were a burden and load of some kind. Faust starts dressed in pure white and progressively dons black clothing like Mephistopheles. I felt no need to ‘understand’ it in any detail, as I had my work cut out to get some better understanding of whole overall theme.
The musical direction impressed me favourably. I suspect that in a concert performance I might have found the tempi erring on the slow side, but even there that would be a good fault, and of course a concert performance is precisely what this is not. Paul Groves has a very innocent face, not my usual idea of Faust but not an ineffective or inappropriate one either. My first impression, with ears accustomed to Gedda in the part, was that his vocal timbre was on the light side, but it is a very attractive voice purely as a voice, he certainly does not lack power or show any sense of strain, and apart from one grisly undershoot in his duet with Marguerite he convinced me. Marguerite herself is the formidable Vesselina Kasarova and as you would expect hers is an intense rather than a tranquil reading of the part. Again not my usual idea of how to do it, but that is a matter of my temperament and habituation, not any attempt at objective assessment. Mephistopheles is the no less formidable Willard White, and to my eyes and ears he IS the part, very effectively lit at his first appearance and dominating the light-toned Groves in a way that I found just right.
This is far more of a work for grown-ups than I had ever suspected. The quirkiness that I have always tended to associate with Berlioz simply vanishes in this production. It is quite clear that not everyone will react favourably to the sets or to the production generally. I can only say that I would not have expected myself to either, but I did.