Okay, I’m watching Faust-based operas this month (October, Halloween, the Devil, all of that stuff). In true sensationalism form, I’ve decided to turn it into a
THE CHAMPION: Gounod’s FAUST!
THE CHALLENGER: Berlioz’s La Damnation du Faust!
Both are French, both are Faust, both written by composers who have rather small outputs in the repertoire. Faust is probably the clearest example of French Grand Opera (and I was surprised how much I liked that stuff with Manon a few months ago). This was the “Dream Team” cast of Roberto Alagna as Faust, Bryn Terfel as Mephistopheles, and Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite. Or, at least, I consider it a dream team because they are pretty darned famous (and respected) singers. I’ve been learning that famous and respected are, of course, not the same thing. As in opera as in everything else. La Damnation du Faust is half the length of Faust, and not really an opera. It is an oratorio (which I watched on DVD: the Solti recording with von Otter, Lewis, and van Dam). I’ve read that some people stage it as an opera sometimes but, c’mon, that really doesn’t work does it? Too much choir singing, too many long instrumental interludes, it is just too piecemeal a collection to be considered one operatic coherent story. But Berlioz surprised me with Les Troyens, which started this whole blog thing, so…respect.
While I do like Berlioz (biggest surprise of 2013, let me tell you) and I like that his piece is more poetic instead of narrative AND half as long, I’m going to tip the scales in Gounod’s favor. Gounod’s scenes are focused, each balances solo and ensemble singing AND plot moving with characterization. I didn’t find the final scene as transcendent as many do but I think I would if I saw it live. There is a reason that this is the “go to” opera for Faust stories and one of the more performed French Grand Operas.
BTW, the EMI video of the Gounod has the trippiest ballet sequence. Ever. Terfel in a strapless black sequin dress? Ballet dancers grinding and writhing on the floor in orgy-like fashion (not that I, you know, have first hand knowledge of that. Ahem.)? The whole scene went from dark to twisted in about a bar and a half. And it was the first time I thought, “No, I don’t want my daughter to be a ballet dancer.” And I’ve seen Black Swan.
UP NEXT: THE UNDERDOGS! Boito’s Mefistofele vs. Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress!