Saturday, 20 August 2016

Charles Gounod, Faust - Salzburger Festspiele, Großes Festspielhaus

Performance 17th August

After a lovely evening with Thaïs I went to another French opera the day afterwards. Gounod's Faust is having its first production ever at the Festival as one of the main productions of this year. The story Faust is probably one of the most important plays of German literature due to Goethe's famous play, but also the opera by Gounod is normally a part of the repertoire. That the festival has never done a production before is a real riddle.
Reinhard von der Thannen created the whole production (including stage and costumes) and you can tell by his production that he worked a lot with Neuenfels. Very often I was reminded of the rat Lohengrin of Bayreuth where he also worked together with Neuenfels. Especially the role of the choir was responsible for some of my déjà-vus. The stage looks sterile and clinical with barely any colours except of white and black. The big sign with "Rien" that is there at the beginning already shows how von der Thannen approaches the piece. The direction of the characters is not really innovative and sometimes very unatural. Probably the best part is the relationship between Faust and Mefistofele where at least sometimes something like direction takes place. The most interesting part was the third act because it seemed more natural the the others and probably worked out best. Alltogether it was not a really exciting production and the festival surely could have done better than that.
Musically it was better because of the exciting conducting of Alejo Pérez who showed a very clean and focused score. He worked out the dramatic contrasts very well and especially the energetic choir scenes were definitely the highlights of the evening. Also thanks to the Wiener Philharmoniker who played accurately and vividly with French elegance and dramatic power. The different colours of the score succeded wonderfully and it was a pleasure to listen. Not only the orchestra, also the Philharmonia Chor Wien did a very good job. The many famous choir parts of the opera were magnificent (apart of the weird choreographies) and some of their melodies were stuck in my ear for the whole evening.
Marie-Ange Todorovitch sang the role of Marthe with a very sensual mezzo voice and her scene was quite funny. Even though she only had that one scene left she did impress me with a very lovely performance. Paolo Rumetz as Wagner seemed not totally well casted because his voice sounded not flexible enough for his short appearance which should have had a bit more lightness and easiness. Siébel was sung by Tara Erraught who sang very beautifully with a very balanced mezzo voice that has a lovely light, but still full timbre. She also acted very emotionally and gave a very touching performance.
Alexey Markov's voice suited the role of Valentin very well with a very aggressive and impulsive performance. His dark baritone voice was rough but also noble at certain parts. His famous prayer sounded lovely and earned a lot of applause.
Marguerite was sung by Italian soprano Maria Agresta who did a marvelous job. Her balanced full voice has the power, the control and the dramatic abilities to sing that role appropriately. While having a very creamy lower register her top becomes more and more shiny with ringing top notes. Her portrayal was touching and showed the inner despair of her role extremely well.
Ildar Abdrazakov was undoubtedly the singer of the evening. His dark powerful, but still really flexible bass voice is already a real highlight, but his portrayal of the devil was simply magnificent. He was so playful and cheeky that it was a pleasure to simply watch him jump around and seduce Faust or play his tricks with other people. His devil was full of elegance, cheeky behaviour and smart seduction. Bravo!
The title role was performed by startenor Piotr Beczala who is definitely one of the great tenors of our time. While having a very bright tenor voice and extremely ease top notes he tends to lack different vocal timbres and tends become a bit too light at the top of the upper register. Undoubtedly he managed the role without any problems, but it simply did not really convince me.
Alltogether it was a good performance, but not really one of the highlights of this year's festival. I would give the first Salzburg Faust 8 stars.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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