BUSONI: Doktor Faust
ROSSINI: La piatra del paragone
When Ferruccio Busoni died in 1924 at the age of 59 he had not yet completed his opera Doktor Faust which he had started writing in 1916. He wrote the libretto himself and considered this opera to be his masterpiece. Doktor Faust is here presented as completed by the composer's pupil, Philipp Jarnach. Busoni's Faust is quite different from those of Berlioz and Gounod. Faust is here a baritone, Mephistopheles a tenor, and there is no Marguerite. Faust's pact with the devil takes him on a series of tragic adventures and at the end he magically transfers his spirit to his dead child's body thus restoring his life. The remarkable Thomas Hampson is magnificent in the title role particularly in his vivid portral of the doomed Faust in the final scene. Gregory Kunde's Mephistopheles is appropriately menacing. The dark basic set rather resembles a warehouse with wide shelves. In the final scene Faust's dead son does not "rise from Faust's body" as Busoni intended—director Klaus Michael Grüber missed a golden opportunity for videol effect here. Young conductor Philippe Jordan misses not a bit of the menace and power of Busoni's score, and the orchestra is in top form. Video and audio are first-rate. Perhaps in the future Doktor Faust will have another DVD presentation (can we hope again for Hampson?) in a more imaginative production.
A Rossini opera production that has a large swimming pool as its basic set? Indeed, that is what we have here and it adds to the fun and delight of Madrid Teatro Rea'sl presentation of Rossini's early opera La pietra del paragone ("The Touchstone"). This premiered at La Scala in September 1812 and was one of the composer's earliest successes—it seems surprising after this the opera virtually disappeared from the stage. The comic opera is concerned with the wealthy Count Asdrubale who wishes to marry but cannot decide which of three widows he is courting. He pretends to lose his fortune to see which of the three really loves him instead of his money. This turns out to be Clarice who, in typical comic opera style, then disguises herself as her brother. The rather convoluted plot really doesn't make much sense, but all ends happily and the score is wonderful in every way, with many opportunities for florid vocal display and, equally important in this production, all of the singers look pretty good in bathing suits. Conductor Alberto Zedda is a Rossini specialist and keeps things sparkling throughout. Video is of exceptional quality, the surround sound of equal quality. Don't miss this one.
Carl Nielsen's comic opera Maskarade, considered to be the Danish 'national opera,' is known to most listeners from the delightful overture which has been recorded very often, notably by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra more than four decades ago, more recently by Neemi Järvi with the Gothenburg Symphony. There is a DVD of a new production by David Pountney from the 2005 Bregenz Festival on the Capriccio label sung in German. This new DVD is a presentation by the Royal Danish Opera directed imaginatively by Kasper Bech Holten and conducted by Michael Schonwandt. In this performance the conductor has restored many of the cuts the composer made since the successful premiere November 11, 1907. Maskarade is a comic opera about two young people who meet at a masquerade, fall in love, but are to marry others. The "maskarade" is a place where people can get away from a rigid society and "let themselves go." The comic situations wear a bit thin, but the audience at the Copenhagen Opera House for this performance surely seemed to enjoy the entire opera, particularly conductor Schonwandt who often is shown beaming with pleasure at the proceedings. Sets and costumes are colorful, and the cast is uniformly strong and good-looking. Ulf Poly Nylin is listed in charge of "circus rigging," which works very well. I found video direction rather annoying—there are numerous very brief shots of members of the orchestra, distracting to say the least. The DVD booklet includes profuse program notes in English, German and Danish. Overall, this DVD is a splendid way to become familiar with what is considered to be the Danish 'national opera.' And don't miss Schonwandt's superb DVD of all of Nielsen's symphonies (see REVIEW).
R.E.B. (January 2008)