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Busoni: Doktor Faust / Hampson, Kunde, Jordan

Busoni / Hampson / Groissboeck / Kunde / Macias
Release Date: 02/12/2008 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101283  
Composer:  Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Reinaldo MaciasThomas HampsonGünther GroissböckSandra Trattnigg,   ... 
Conductor:  Philippe Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera ChorusZurich Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

BUSONI Doktor Faust (completed Jarnach) & Philippe Jordan, cond; Thomas Hampson ( Faust ); Gregory Kunde ( Mephistopheles ); Gunther Groissböck ( Wagner/Master of Ceremonies ); Sandra Trattnigg ( Duchess ); Reinaldo Macias ( Soldier Read more class="ARIAL12">); Peter Solomon (org); Enrico Cacciari (org); Zurich Op O & Ch ARTHAUS 101 283 (2 DVDs: 215:00) Live: Zurich 2006

& Talk with Thomas Hampson; interview with Philippe Jordan

“He was surrounded by an indescribable atmosphere of strangeness, by something that seemed completely uncanny . . . as if he’d come back from a land where all the people are dead.” Erwin Rohde’s description of Nietzsche after his mental collapse in January 1889 applies quite as well to Thomas Hampson in 2006, in lustrous voice, as Busoni’s Faust. Gregory Kunde’s Mephistopheles—a part pitched often and cruelly above the staff—is less menacing than sardonic, and, at moments, grimly humorous, that is, vocally and histrionically beyond all praise. And Sandra Trattnigg, despite the risible hip-hooped costume she’s imprisoned in, meets Hampson head-on in projecting the mutual erotic attraction of Faust and the Duchess of Parma. Her delirious, inflamed account of the Duchess’s great aria—a number one would welcome in concert—goes to the top of a very short list. Subsidiary parts are all strongly taken. Chorus and orchestra acquit themselves of this virtuoso score with virtuosic aplomb, urged on by conductor Philippe Jordan, who, without hustle, keeps the pulse pressing. Some moments—the Sarabande, for instance—could have yielded deeper secrets to a more dilatory approach, but Doktor Faust makes for a long evening of tautly concentrated musical argument. Before an audience almost supernaturally unobtrusive, and who graciously held back grateful applause until the final curtain, the pace was, overall, just right. Here is one of the great theatrical coups of the DVD era trapped in pretentious, often preposterous, staging.

Throughout the Euro-chatter with Hampson and conductor Jordan, Busoni’s stagecraft is spoken of as if it were an impenetrable conundrum. On the contrary, the composer spelled out exactly what he had in mind in essays easily available since the midcentury, at least—in English, The Essence of Music (New York: Dover, 1965). But to have consulted these, or to have followed Busoni’s painstaking directions in the score, was obviously felt to be infra dig , an intolerable imposition upon the director. Thus, what was straightforward for Busoni becomes a project of mystification and obfuscating ugliness as Klaus Michael Grüber visits his would-be-clever riffs upon a work he hasn’t begun to grasp. Applied occasionally to war-horses— Il trovatore , say, or Die Walküre —something similar might provide refreshment, but vented upon a work so rarely heard it serves only to confuse, distort, and blunt Doktor Faust ’s dramatic impact. Faust’s “lofty gothic room, half library, half alchemist’s laboratory,” is presented as a surreal Bauhaus apothecary, glass shelves reaching far out of reach, neatly filled with jars, jugs, bottles, flasks. Faust’s alchemical operation becomes the close examination of a bonsai tree. The students from Cracow are costumed as c. 1940 gangsters, while the book, Clavis astartis magica , and magical implements they bring him are transmogrified as an Astarte figurine with play-doll accoutrements. In the Intermezzo, the soldier, in period costume, prays before a neon cross. And what are we to make of the scene in a Wittenberg tavern with Faust’s students costumed in waistcoats and cravats and faces rouged as open wounds suggesting rotting corpses or mutilés de la guerre ? The evocation of Helena spooks up nothing more imaginative than a tawdry tabloid queen on a pedestal. And so on. None of this is as distracting as Peter Mussbach’s visual/conceptual hash, which was allowed to ruin the Salzburg 1999 and Metropolitan Opera 2001 productions, but they are leaves from the same book. These parasites should be painting houses instead of asserting a spurious right to inflict their crapulous feints on any operatic mise en scène , regardless of whether it enhances the work or muddles it. Confronted by a similar “anything goes” impulse among young composers as he moved into his Old Master phase, Busoni noted, “The question is not: Is such and such different from the old? But rather: Is it just as good, is it much better than the old?” No one today asks such questions.

There are cuts, large and small. In the scene with the devils, for instance, at Jarnach’s suggestion, 20 bars are dropped just before Faust demands the name of the last visitant, Mephistopheles. Elimination of two dances from the Parmesan festivities (including that based on the Tanzwalzer ) may be a cosmetic loss, but is nonetheless regrettable. In the first scene of the final tableau, students acclaim Wagner, the former famulus and now the university’s rector, who animadverts upon Faust (“He lived on dreams and fancies; as a man of learning not at all outstanding”) before retiring, freeing them to cavort to some of the gayest, most vivacious music Busoni ever penned while presenting an oasis of bright relief in a span of sustained horror. This has been sheared away (pp. 282–301 in the vocal score) and, after the scene’s brief prelude, Faust enters. Busoni’s score, fully orchestrated, breaks off just as Faust attempts to pray—“Wo die Worte finden? Sie Tanzen durchs Gehirn wie Zauber” (vocal score, p. 310)—and can find no words but magic spells. Philipp Jarnach, Busoni’s friend, famulus , and confidant, relies on previous material, skillfully worked, to hastily wrap up Faust’s monologue, accompany his death, and the entry of Mephistopheles disguised as the Night Watchman, who—a trendy touch—has the last word in Sprechstimme , “Has this man met with an accident?” In the 1980s, a single sheet in Busoni’s hand, written on his deathbed but apparently unavailable to Jarnach, surfaced with directions for the completion of Doktor Faust using material from the Five Short Pieces for the Cultivation of Polyphonic Playing (composed March-May 1923). Antony Beaumont, author of the gripping and indispensable Busoni the Composer (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985; see Fanfare 11:1, p. 465 ff.), working à la lettre from this, from suggestions in Busoni’s correspondence, and from penetrating connoisseurship, fulfilled the task, producing an ending quite different—less compact but far more suggestive—than Jarnach’s.

Space limitations prevent me from pursuing a comparison here—suffice it to say that both recensions are included in Kent Nagano’s 1999 complete Doktor Faust with Dietrich Henschel and the Lyon Opera (Erato 3984-25501, Fanfare 23:5). While this has slipped out-of-print domestically, it appears to be available in Europe; arkivmusic.com, though it does not list it, may be able to get it as a special order. If not, try German or French Amazon. Meanwhile, Arthaus’s stereo is close, vibrant, and detailed, while the camerawork strikes a fine balance between stage-wide and close-up. Absolutely de rigueur for Busoni mavens and obligatory for aficionados of modern opera, as well as—caveats noted—enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis

Doktor Faust – Thomas Hampson
Wagner, sein Famulus / Zeremonienmeister– Günther Groissböck
Mephistopheles – Gregory Kunde
Der Herzog von Parma / Des Mädchens Bruder / Soldat – Reinaldo Macias
Die Herzogin von Parma – Sandra Trattnigg
Ein Leutnant – Martin Zysset

Klaus Michael Grüber, stage director
Eduardo Arroyo, stage design
Eva Dessecker, costumes
Jürgen Hoffmann, lighting

Bonus features:
- Excepts from pre-performance talk with Thomas Hampson
- Interview with Philippe Jordan

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Menu languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Running time: 172 vmins (opera) + 43 mins (interviews)
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Works on This Recording

Doktor Faust, K 303 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Reinaldo Macias (Tenor), Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Günther Groissböck (Baritone),
Sandra Trattnigg (Soprano), Gregory Kunde (Tenor), Martin Zysset (Baritone)
Conductor:  Philippe Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera Chorus,  Zurich Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: circa 1924; Berlin, Germany 
Date of Recording: 2006 
Venue:  Zurich, Switzerland 

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