41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Along the years, there's been some argument in the musical press whether Busoni was a great composer or if he rather was, as Richard Strauss's own pun on himself, a first class second rate one. Well, this work, one of the most intriguing operas written during the 20th Century, is indeed a very serious argument towards establishing Busoni among the great composers. It has been slow in gaining recognition since its premiere in 1925, with all too infrequent performances, a kind of cult item that saw the stage, alongside Pfitzner's Palestrina and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler, only in solemn, festive occasions and mostly in the German-speaking orbit, the three works characterised as they are by an aura of deep philosophic content, in their different approaches dealing with the struggle of the creative artist in an hostile environment; of the three, Doktor Faust is by a notch becoming the better known, with gradually less infrequent performances during the last 15 years or so. London's first staging took place only in the 1980's and New York's the following decade, in a pioneering event at NYCO that the Met only followed in the 2000's.
The Zurich performance shown in this DVD is an all-round successful, certainly not a great, one, though resting heavily on two pillars, the first being Hampson's tour-de-force portrayal of the title role and the other Jordan's work in the pit. The performing version used is the standard Jarnach (whose otherwise exemplary job in the missing bits has as much of Busoni as Alfano's for Turandot has of Puccini, that is, nothing) completion, yet in the supplementary material conductor Jordan explains in an interview why he opted to leave aside Beaumont's alternative in spite of its use of "new" original Busoni material that emerged in the 1980's. I have a few quibbles with the rather silly make-up of both the three Cracovian students as well as of the Wittenberg ones, and the production is rather unimaginative for a work so laden with the fantastic and esoteric, but those observations need not deter you from an otherwise fascinating glimpse of a remarkable work. Collectors that came to know the opera from DG's 3-LP set from the 1970's, with Fischer-Dieskau's phenomenal Faust will keep referring back to that set (it was for a time available in CD during the 1990's) for sheer enjoyment. I don't know Nagano's early 2000's Erato CD set, recorded concurrently with Chatelet performances that are rumoured to have been put onto video tape but never issued on VHS or DVD, but those younger, curious collectors with a feel for the off-the-beaten-track repertoire will do well in snatching this 2-DVD set from the racks of their favourite music shop (as I did at Barcelona's FNAC) as soon as they see it, or pre-order here at Amazon and get a feel of this fascinating, always intriguing music. That it is, in its condition of being a work left unfinished by its author, a somewhat uneven one is true, but so is also its roughly but radically different contemporary, Turandot.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
G P Padillo
- Published on Amazon.com
What an exhausting, numbing, emotional experience watching this DVD was. The production is not without problems, but Hampson's performance more than compensates for anything that might hinder one's enjoyment and appreciation for this reading. This may be the finest work I've seen from him - and knowing his propensity for analyzing works and reading between the lines, Busoni's enigmatic, difficult task put out before him is precisely the type of challenge Hampson seems to revel in. He is intense, his world weary, exhausted of life beginning morphing into this superhuman persona that burns himself out trying to achieve Mephistophele's challenge "to make eternal the fulfillment of every wish and every suffering." It's exhausting just to think about!
Busoni's uncompleted opera shows everywhere a brilliant mind grappling with larger "Faustian" ideas - and a seeming frustration as how best to represent them in a piece conceived for a stage drama. The resulting work is, of course, episodic in nature without the clear linear direction and storyline we are accustomed to in "standard" opera.
Klaus Michael Grüber's production for Zurich seems intent to maximize that episodic nature and the attempt to flow the acts together with a cinematic liquidity makes the "choppiness" (for lack of better word) of the work all the more noticeable. The enormous stage design seemed to me a blending of a hyper-realism mixed with the symbolic. To that end, watching this I was reminded (more than once) of the great silent movies, and the larger-than-life performances, odd costumings (for all but Faust and Mephistpheles) all enhance that feeling. At the same time, Grüber's staging has a church pageant feel to it, almost enhancing the static qualities of the opera Mr. Hampson appears to be one of those always good looking fellows whose looks actually seem to only improve with age and here, even exhausted and greasyhaired, he looks terrific. The voice, always attractive is gorgeous in this incredibly difficult music and even when the music threatens to overwhelm him he is never less than compelling - giving everything he has. The last half
hour of this piece is my favorite as it's almost entirely Faust in this Wagnerian length soliloquy of ineffable beauty and power.
Hampson is at his absolute zenith here - watching him grapple with all of the ideas presented here, the reality that he alone cannot attain what he set out to, the realization of his mortality all set to Busoni's stunning score - I was overwhelmed by it, completely undone. I know many find this work difficult going, but I really believe even if one doesn't care particularly for most of the opera, this scene alone is worth the price of the set. He is THAT amazing here.
Gregory Kunde has the unenviable task of singing the other impossible role, Mephistopheles. The tessitura alone is a killer, but Kunde makes it all work and is often thrilling vocally, while physically his devil comes off as wry and deadpan. The combination works wonderfully.
The lovely Sandra Trattnigg is the Duchess of Parma and ably sings her difficult aria more than adequately . . . admirably, even, but while she has an attractive voice the role really isn't a great one and she (whether directed or on her own) doesn't make quite the meal out of it that I hoped she might.
Some of the costumes are outlandish and downright weird, which, I'm guess serves to heighten the difference between the Devil, Faust and everyone else in the world, but some of them were (to me) fairly ghastly.
Philippe Jordan looks like he should be starring in movies rather than conducting operas, but he does a (mostly) superb job with the Zurich forces and nearly all of the music comes across magnificently. The one disappointment I had was in the long Symphonic Intermezzo (which begins the 2nd disc). It is dispatched with precision, attention to detail and amazing dynamics, but it felt "soulless" to me. There was too much of a detached quality that got under my skin as I want this intense, mostly soft music
to "burn" and it did just about the opposite here. This was difficult for me to
understand (but clearly an artistic choice . . . duh) as the rest of the score
has that "burning" that Busoni has infused it with.
Busoni's opera is, as Hampson refers to it a complete "masterpiece." Despite its episodic nature - perhaps because of it - one can experience the ideas of Faust better than in any of the other Faustian operas. In a few hours his Doktor Faust encompasses far more of those ideas than could possibly be gleaned than were one able to spend the same amount of time with the sources from which it is derived. It seems almost as if told in a dream-like state, where anything at all is possible with little to no regard for the banalities of realism.
Musically, Busoni embraces so many styles - there is Bach, Beethoven and Schumann aplenty in the score. During one section of the great final monologue I always feel the presence of Poulenc's "Dialogues of the Carmelites" (even though that work came much later). It is a glorious score wed to a difficult to grasp libretto, but I don't necessarily consider that a flaw, but rather more of a challenge to the listener.
This is one tough bird of an opera. Busoni almost guaranteed his opera would be difficult on all accounts: to cast, to interpret, and to sit through. Despite a mostly ear ravishing score, it's not one to "sit back and enjoy," like some other works, but this production - musically and theatrically, yields mighty rewards.
The Arthaus DVD and is Very Highly Recommended.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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I first discovered this masterpiece on a DGG CD and have longed for a decent video rendering. This is far better than I could have ever imagined with an outanding performance by Thomas Hampson. Hampson speaks excellent German and has really worked himself into the part. The rest of the cast are also very good and both the picture and sound are excellent. Treat yourself to a rare gem, it is most unlikely to appear again for a while and it is really a most wonderful opera deserving of wider popularity and more frequent performances. Strongly recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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I have had no prior exposure to Ferruccio Busoni's music. I have never seen this opera before. The experience was awesome. I was so amazed by the music and the performance that I watched it twice. The music itself is haunting with its rapid transitions between major and minor. The set was very modern but it "worked". Unlike many operas the women play a minor role and the opera succeeds, or fails, on the abilities of the two male leads. Gregory Kunde, playing the role of Mephistopheles, was particularly engaging. The image quality was excellent -- the colors had good saturation; the image was sharp throughout. The image choices by the video director enhanced the viewing experience. The sound (I listened to it with the dts-HD master audio setting) was encompassing with a good frequency range. Art Haus Musik has become a major source for operas in blu-ray. I have a number of their offerings and have been pleased with all of them. This is a direct contrast to the recent offerings by the Metropolitan Opera Company who have recorded a number of operas in high definition but has, to date, released only standard DVDs without the sound quality that can be obtained with Blu-ray. My experience with opera on blu-ray so far is that the sound is clearly better, the image marginally so.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A M Zénon
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Recently I listened to Busoni Doktor Faust. The opera was waiting on my recorder, after been broadcasted nearly 2 years ago. The performance was by Opernhaus Zürich from 2006. Thomas Hampson as Doktor Faust impressed me greatly. I immediately bought this Blu-ray disc. In the past, I have read, re-read and watched several times the play by Goethe. I read the play by Marlowe. I have listened to the Faust opera of Gounod. However, never the story of Faust had such an effect on me.
During the second prologue, Doktor Faust opens a book about black magic. According to the guidelines, he conjures up six spirits and chooses the sixth one Mephistopheles as his servant. He asks him to help him with all his wishes, especially for knowledge. In return, Mephistopheles asks him to serve him after death. First Faust shrinks back. Then he surrenders.
It was at this moment of transition from good to power, that Thomas Hampson as Doktor Faust took me into his mind, his thoughts, his hesitation, his weighing up the pros and cons of having power over other people.
In this performance, the creation of many people is converging: The legend of Faust, the libretto and music of Busoni,and Philipp Jarnach, the co-workers of the Zürich Opernhaus. The cast, especially Gregory Kunde as Mephistopheles and Sandra Trattnigg as the duchess of Parma, the conductor Philippe Jordan, the orchestra, the direction, all are exceptional, even on a recording, certainly on a Blu-ray disc.
The story is very personal and human.
The music is beautiful, stirring, fascinating.