Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Hector Berlioz - La Damnation de Faust / von Otter Lewis van Dam Rose CSO Solti |
Actors: Georg Solti, Anne Sofie von Otter, Keith Lewis, Josť van Dam, Peter Rose
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Berlioz confronts Goethe and the devil
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 01/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was a revolutionary composer but the nature of his musical upheaval isn't clear until one takes a few facts into consideration. Between 1789 and 1820 France was in a state of perpetual tumult that left her literature and arts in stasis; while from across the channel, young English poets contemplated the French Revolution and new poetic impulses were born. Wordsworth's Preface to his Lyrical Ballads in 1801 is the epochal statement of 19th Century English Romanticism. France still stagnated. The following two facts are stunning: not a single play by Shakespeare was successfully presented in France for the two centuries from his death in 1616 until Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet played at the Odeon theatre in Paris in 1827. Included in the audience of jubilant young Romantics was an enthralled Hector Berlioz. And the music of Beethoven was scarcely known in France until Francois Antoine Habeneck was placed in charge of reorganizing the Conservatory Concerts and presented the first performance of the Eroica Symphony in 1828. Attending that concert was the same soon-to-be ex-medical student, Hector Berlioz. That same year, Berlioz created his arch-Romantic Symphonie fantastique, revolutionizing musical syntax. That he created it ex nihilo in a relatively barren French cultural landscape makes his achievement all the more stupendous. Yet it also contained the seeds for the attendant difficulties and failures of his subsequent work, including La Damnation de Faust. The ground simply had not been properly sown to bear the fruit of Berlioz's genius!
Berlioz had cast Goethe's Faust, in its Gerard de Nerval translation, into 8 dramatic scenes as a youthful enterprise in 1828 which he then sent to Goethe upon its completion. When Goethe failed to respond, not even acknowledging receipt of the manuscript, Berlioz withdrew the work and destroyed it. Thus the matter lay until the winter of 1845/46. Berlioz, while on a tour of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Silesia, was inspired by Hungarian music to throw himself into a new composition: La Damnation de Faust. He wrote the piece on-the-fly as he traveled. It had its premiere in November 1846 at the Comic Opera in Paris. Conceived not as an opera but, as he described it, a "Legende dramatique en quatre parties". Parisians did not know what to make of it and stayed away in droves. The second performance was similarly sparsely attended. Berlioz was so disappointed that he wrote no large scale secular works for the rest of his life. Faust was particularly manhandled in Germany by Goethe's self-appointed protectors. It did not matter that this Faust was freely adapted from Goethe's text. Berlioz's temerity in appropriating the great man's ideas was an egregious sin, sufficient grounds for condemnation, leaving the work unplayed in Germany for years despite admirers such as Liszt. Thus was Berlioz's masterpiece thrust upon a venomous world.
This DVD is a live recording of a performance during the 1989 Promenade Concert season at the Royal Albert Hall marking the start of Sir Georg Solti's farewell tour as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As such, a valedictory atmosphere prevails amongst performers and audience, heightening the already emotionally charged expectations surrounding this comparatively infrequent staging of the Faust. Even were this not being recorded, I suspect the performers would have been keen to deliver a taut, dramatic, technically flawless reading of Berlioz's "dramatic legend". That is precisely what they do deliver. The Chicago Symphony players profess their admiration and respect for Sir Georg by filling the hallowed Albert Hall with a nearly perfect performance. The Orchestra has never sounded more energetic, yet plays the more sedate passages with delicacy and taste. The horns and winds are particularly fine, playing with power and precision. The strings have a silky sheen reminiscent of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy, yet play Berlioz's more sardonic pages with bite and grit. Solti molded this Orchestra into a world class organization over the years and they prove it here. The Chicago Symphony Chorus under Chorus Master Margaret Hillis is superb. The Chorus of the Westminster Cathedral under James O'Donnell is similarly brilliant, lending a lovely melting sweetness to the slightly more brazen Chicago voices. Together, their sound is stupendous during Choral outbursts that must be heard to be believed. These massed voices are worth the price of admission!
The four soloists are all at their peak on this recording. Marguerite is sung by mezzo-soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter who is wonderful in the role. Her voice is pliant yet dark, hinting at evil's seduction of a pure soul. Perfect casting. Faust is New Zealand tenor Keith Lewis, who lends the role dignity amidst demonic turmoil. His singing is excellent, acting convincingly with his voice, showing terror or defiance with equal expertise. Mephistopheles is sung by Jose van Dam. Bravado, cunning and guile are all portrayed by his singing. English singer Peter Rose is Brander with a sonorous bass. Solti conducts brilliantly. I have only a minor quibble, preferring even greater ferocity in some of the climactic moments. As I say, it is a minor point. The performance is superb overall. I enjoyed it immensely and was often quite moved by both the work and the atmosphere surrounding this performance. The extensive applause at the end had many in the audience in tears.
This DVD is recorded in color with a full screen image and a 4:3 aspect ratio. The Region Code is NTSC 0 Worldwide. The menu languages are German, French, English and Spanish. Subtitles are in the same 4 languages. The sound format is PCM stereo which is clear and vivid, lending nice presence to the live recording. The running time of this disc is 134 minutes. There are no extras other than an excellent 32 page booklet in English, French and German.
This is a superb DVD of a rarely performed work. I strongly recommend it to everyone but especially lovers of Choral singing and Romantic Orchestral music. This is the recording to help you acquire a taste for Berlioz if this composer has eluded you until now.
All but staged. Wonderous!!
J.P.E.W. | Ohio | 05/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production, apart from being a quite satisfying performance of the musical piece, has excellent dramatic presentation. The soloists perform as they sing, with facial expression, emotional intensity and interaction that almost transports them to an imaginary theatrical set provided by the musical imagery. Kind of like radio dramas, but with some visual support. This facet of the presentation is showcased by a well crafted videography that is relentlessly capturing the strongest musical and dramatic moments with well timed shot sequences. A real tribute to the true intent of the composer.
Kudos to the excellent camera crew for this live production."