viernes, abril 22, 2016

Gounod´s “Faust”, a Gallic view of Goethe´s mighty opus

            Faust is certainly one of the most famous characters in European literature. It seems that there was an alchemist named Johann Faust who lived between 1480 and 1540; he apparently died because his laboratory blew up. It was a time when science was attacked by superstition and religion, linking it to demonic powers. In 1592 Christopher Marlowe wrote "The tragic story of the life and death of Doctor Faustus", first important literary expression on the subject. On it Busoni wrote his best opera, "Doktor Faust", in 1925; it was premièred at the Colón in Italian in 1969.
            Liszt based several piano and orchestral pieces, especially the famous Mephisto Waltz, on Lenau´s "Faust", but it was Goethe´s fundamental "Faust" that inspired the composer his enormous and admirable "Faust Symphony".  The sprawling literary mighty opus started with a long poem in 1790, to which the writer later added  a tragedy in two parts  (1808 and 1832).
            One side, the metaphysical in the purest sense, vividly comes to life in Mahler´s Eighth Symphony and in certain parts of the beautiful "Scenes from Faust" by Schumann. The other one, old age, love, youth and sin, and the pact between Satan´s servant Mephisto and Faust, is evoked in three powerful works: the most innovative and fantastic, "La Damnation de Faust" (1846) by Berlioz; the personal and intellectual "Mefistofele" (1868) by Boito includes the challenge to God by Mefistofele in the Prologue  and the love of Faust with Helen of Troy.
            But by far the most famous is the Gallic view of librettists Michel Carré and Jules Barbier and composer Charles Gounod. First he wrote it as an opéra-comique (spoken alternating with sung text) in 1859, but in 1869, adding a Valentin aria and the ballet "La Nuit de Walpurgis", he converted it into an "opéra lyrique". It had an enormous success and by the end of the century was among the most staged operas in the world (not always in French). The Paris Opera staged it up to 1975 in 2.350 occasions! (and the Met, inaugurated in 1883, played it often).
            Here it was premièred in Italian in 1866 (Estanislao del Campo wrote then his satyric poem on the impressions of the gaucho Anastasio el Pollo; many decades later Ginastera wrote his "Obertura para el Fausto criollo" which we will hear next Thursday at the Philharmonic concert) ; and in French at the Colón in 1916. After WWII  the reference interpretation in 1971 had a wonderful cast (Gedda, Ghiaurov, Harper, Massard), conductor (Gavazzeni) and stage designs (Schneider-Siemssen). The last Colón revival is far back, in 1998.
            Buenos Aires Lírica offered it in November 2006, and now it gives us a new staging by producer Pablo Maritano, with Enrique Bordolini as stage and lighting designer and Ramiro Sorrequieta designing the costumes.
            This version, as the earlier one, eliminates the Walpurgis scene, for two reasons (I surmise): the stage is rather small for a complicated witches Sabbath´s ballet, and it is expensive (dancers, costumes). Pity,  the music is very good of its kind. And it also cancels the scene of the spinning wheel, in which Marguerite sadly remembers her love (Schubert´s famous Lied musicalizes the same situation).
            The melodies are still charming, though there is often some blandness; however, the Church scene, in which Marguerite´s prayer is interrupted by Méphistophéles´ "Be damned!" is quite impressive, and so is the Prison scene. There are fine choirs, and the waltz still captivates.The final minutes, however, feel more sanctimonious than sacred nowadays.
            Although the librettists place the action in Late Medieval Germany, there´s little in the text to pinpoint it. Maritano , apart from some unnecessary licenses (the joyous Soldiers Chorus is sung by very damaged guys; and again the silliness of replacing swords with guns in Valentin´s death duel) basically respects the libretto, though without special insights.  Bordolini´s stage pictures are simple but effective, and his lighting adequate. The costumes seem to place the action in the 1920s, with nothing particularly German. But this is a very Gallic Goethe... (Nothing particularly French either). The same production was seen at Rosario´s Teatro El Círculo last year.
            The star of the evening was Hernán Iturralde as Satan´s envoy. Far from the traditional image, we saw a bald man in impeccable festive attire, acting with satiric courtesy, and singing with a splendidly responsive voice in all registers; his French was perfect, a rare thing here. Veteran Argentine tenor Darío Schmunck started very well, with an expressive old Faust, though as a young one he didn´t cut the ideal figure, but he acted and sang with great professionalism, apart from a couple of fixed high notes.
             Marina Silva has dramatic presence as Marguerite; however,  vocally she shows some flaws both in florid passages (the Jewels aria) and in very high notes; she compensates by vivid acting and she conveys the meaning of the words. Marguerite´s brother Valentin was sung by Ernesto Bauer, rather nondescript in his aria but good in the death scene. Siebel, Marguerite´s young suitor, was nicely sung by Cecilia Pastawski. Virginia Correa Dupuy was an exaggeratedly grotesque Marthe, Marguerite´s wet nurse,  probably marked so by Maritano. Juan Font completed well as Wagner, a friend of Valentin.
            The 47-strong Orchestra responded satisfactorily to Javier Logioia Orbe´s well considered reading, and the Chorus had an excellent night under the wise preparation of Juan Casasbellas.

For Buenos Aires Herald