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Gounod - Faust
Gounod - Faust
Actors: Francisco Araiza, Ruggero Raimondi, Gabriela Benackova, Walton Gronroos, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Directors: Erich Binder, Ken Russell
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2006     2hr 56min


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Movie Details

Actors: Francisco Araiza, Ruggero Raimondi, Gabriela Benackova, Walton Gronroos, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Directors: Erich Binder, Ken Russell
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: DTS, Classical
Studio: Deutsche Grammophon
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 08/08/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/1985
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1985
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 2hr 56min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: French, English, German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

A Bizarre and Misdirected Interpretation of Faust
Charles Beck | Framingham State College, MA | 09/07/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)


This live performance (1985) from Vienna's famous State Opera House has a solid cast, except for the director. Araiza and Benackova have the appropriate lyric voices for Faust and Marguerite. Araiza performs a very sensitive and worshipful cavatina, "Salut! Demeure." Benackova does her best to express an innocent excitement upon viewing herself with a crown of jewels in the famous "Jewel Song," but it seems out of place with her nun's attire. (Yes, in Act II, she is packaged as a nun!) Raimondi has a smooth and strong voice, even though he lacks the devilish and sarcastic coloring of the late Nicolai Ghiaurov. The picture (somewhat grainy), and the sound quality are superior to the current list of Faust DVD's. For the most part, the sets are impressive--but not necessarily appropriate--and rather somber. The opera opens and closes in Faust's spacious study with a symbolic view of the sky and higher realm. The opera often resembles a ballet as dancers appear as apparitions to accompany the vocalists.

In the notes that accompany the DVD, we learn that the director, Ken Russell, wanted to make the seduction of Marguerite, in his words, less "silly" and more "realistic" and "vivid." (It should be noted that Russell's reading, assuming he read Goethe's first part, is at odds with most reviews of Faust.) To add "realism" to Faust's conquest and Marguerite's punishment, there are some symbolic sets, costumes, and scenes that will strike many viewers as rather bizarre and sometimes offensive. To prepare the viewer, here are a few examples of why this production was very controversial. Instead of an attractive vision of Marguerite in front of a spinning wheel, we see a rather unalluring image of a woman sending a cryptic message by way of sign language--probably not the kind of image that would have prompted the aging Faust to sign a contract with the devil. In the famous and romantic garden scene, Marguerite appears fully dressed as a nun, and her garden is paved in stone rather than plants. Apparently, her religious habit is not very disconcerting to the arduous Faust because, after their duet, we see them rolling together on the pavement, in one of the strangest seduction scenes in the history of opera. Finally, Russell decides to focus on Marguerite's punishment for murdering her illegitimate child rather than her pardon and redemption. Instead of angels bearing her spirit heavenward, we see and hear the sound of a guillotine. In the closing scene, Faust is back in his study and seated in front of Marguerite's casket. As a morbid reminder of their indiscretions, a headless corpse rises and falls inside the casket.

Symbolic sets, costumes, and scenes serve a very useful purpose when they clarify and enhance the spirit of the story and nature of the characters. Unfortunately, Russell's symbolism distorts what both Goethe and Gounod had in mind, and they probably would have strongly disapproved of Russell's alterations to the theme and depiction of Marguerite. For example, both Goethe and Gounod focused on Marguerite's redemption and not her punishment, and neither one of them would have pictured her as a nun in a bizarre seduction scene. Goethe once claimed that his nature was too conciliatory to compose a true tragedy. The end of the second part reunites the lovers in heaven to the devil's disappointment. Gounod has been criticized, often unfairly, for not following the classic poem more closely. In order to produce a popular and entertaining opera, Gounod did leave out sections of the story, but he remained true to the spirit of Goethe's Faust. In addition to being a composer of operas and religious music, Gounod was a literary scholar who wrote reviews. No doubt there is an audience for Russell's attempt to revise one of the greatest poetic masterpieces in literature--probably the same audience who would like to see Mephistopheles dressed as a priest and conducting the sacraments. However, more knowledgeable fans of the poem and opera are likely to find his revisions disconcerting and inappropriate. This production is probably worth four stars if you are willing to overlook the director's misconceived symbolism. Alas, it appears that Faust lovers will have to continue to wait for an outstanding production of Gounod's great opera on DVD.

R. P. Romanelli | Huntington, NY United States | 01/14/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)

"The famous ballet scene was omitted. They made Margeurite a nun which she never was, and it just doesn't work. Worst of all, they altered the original ending which depicted forgiveness and salvation (visually and in words and music)into a visually ghastly, gruesome scene totally inconsistent with the celestial music. Such changes to a masterpiece, whether it be a famous opera, as here, or to a Rembrandt cannot be justified, whether under a banner of "creativity" or any other."
It makes a great CD.
CathyB | 02/16/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Great listening, but the production is so poorly conceived and gimicky that it is impossible to watch. A terrible disappointment."
Poor sound quality
MartyD | New York City | 03/19/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)

"The sound quality of this recording was so bad that I returned the item to Amazon. I don't know whether it was a defective disc or just a bad job of recording."