BERLIOZ Damnation of Faust (DVD)
This production was the sensation of the 1999 Salzburg Festival. Understandably so, I felt, after watching this riveting DVD, which captures most of the excitement that must have been felt at the time in the evocative Felsenreitschule. The staging is a joint venture. The spectacular scenic realisation of Berlioz’s ‘Legende dramatique’ originated with the Spanish theatre troupe La Fura dels Baus; the staging itself is the work of Olle and Pedrissa. The sets and costumes were conceived by the Spanish sculptor Jaume Piensa.
The results were described in the press as ‘extreme theatre’ – and one can see why when viewing the virtuoso treatment of the vast stage area. It is dominated by a transparent cylinder which serves all sorts of purposes, depicting in particular the soul-searching struggles of Faust and Mephistopheles; while the complex choral movements and an elaborate lighting plot are all carried out without a hint of a hitch. The interpretation, on first viewing, seems to be quasi-Jungian, exploring the meaning of Faust’s soul and his relationship with his alter ego (the light and shadow of one being), Mephistopheles and his ideal, unattainable woman, Marguerite. The Ride to the Abyss is the zenith of the venture’s appreciable accomplishments. The whole enterprise is extremely daring, and could have gone disastrously wrong, but in the event seems to have been triumphant. Alexandre Tarta, the video director, catches as much as is possible of the inventive action.
It certainly inspired all the participants to heights of interpretative skill. Cambreling and the Berlin Staatskapelle perform with discipline and fire, wanting only that extra dedicated vision evinced by Colin Davis and the LSO on CD. Kasarova and Willard White, both stage beings to their fingertips, sing and act with total conviction. Kasarova is the vulnerable, insecure, beautiful Marguerite to the life, every gesture and facial expression supporting her intense reading of the glorious music Berlioz wrote for her. Her vision of the great Romance is idiosyncratic to say the least, but a triumph of erotic communication on its own account, a cross between Callas and Ewing at their most individual.
White is commanding throughout – at once demonic, cynical, relaxed and satirical, his huge voice absolutely in command of the role. Groves is not quite on his colleagues’ level of accomplishment, but acts and sings with the awe and sense of identity-seeking which this production requires of its Faust. The sound, as on most DVDs, is exemplary. Highly recommended to any owner of the new hardware.'