Gounod

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gounod
LABELS: Decca DVD
ALBUM TITLE: Gounod: Faust
WORKS: Faust
PERFORMER: Jonas Kaufmann, Marina Poplavskaya, René Pape; Metropolitan Opera/Yannick Nézet-Séguin; dir. Des McAnuff (New York, 2011)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 074 3811 Blu-ray: 074 3812

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Faust has always been a New York favourite. It opened the original Met in 1883 and was revived so often that one wit dubbed the house the Faustspielhaus. Now as the new Met struggles to join the 20th century, who better to direct a new production than a Broadway tyro, Des McAnuff, who piloted Jersey Boys to international success. McAnuff has a concept. Faust is a nuclear physicist who is appalled by the destruction caused by the atomic bomb and decides to poison himself. In the momentary pause between beaker and lip, his whole life is played out in five acts before our eyes.

Leaving aside the curious notion that the road to Los Alamos began in Wittenberg, Gounod’s opera is less about Faust the physicist than Faust as lover. And while Valentin and his comrades as soldiers returning from Verdun is an attractive idea, and the set with its huge cast-iron balconies and spiral staircases is suitably Frankensteinian, it’s the relationship between Faust and the woman he ruins that should be centre stage.

Here the Met plays a fistful of trumps. Jonas Kaufmann is an ardent Faust and, in smart evening clothes, is as stylish sartorially as he is vocally. There’s wonder in the voice when he first sees Marguerite, and a real sense of pain when he grasps what he has done to her. René Pape is a wickedly cynical Méphistophélès, though he might have found more humour in the role. But the star is Marina Poplavskaya’s Marguerite. Wide-eyed and innocent to start, tearful and terrified in the Walpurgis Night Act, Poplavskaya makes you hear the ballad of the King of Thule, the Jewel aria and the love duet as if the ink was scarcely dry on the score. Of course it helps to have Yannick Nézet-Séguin in charge in the pit, coaxing a performance from the Met Orchestra that is rich in detail.

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Christopher Cook