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Gounod: Faust / Rizzi, Ramey, Mentzer, Agache, Fassbaender

Gounod / Rizzi / Wno / Ramey / Mentzer / Agache
Release Date: 03/29/2011 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 4676915   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles Gounod
Performer:  Brigitte FassbaenderCecilia GasdiaJerry HadleySamuel Ramey,   ... 
Conductor:  Carlo Rizzi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Welsh National Opera ChorusWelsh National Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Note: No libretto is included, however this opera is so famous, English librettos are likely available online, in books, and many collectors have other copies of Gounod's Faust to draw from.


GOUNOD Faust Carlo Rizzi, cond; Jerry Hadley ( Faust ); Samuel Ramey ( Mephistopheles ); Cecilia Gasdia ( Marguerite Read more class="ARIAL12">); Alexandru Agache ( Valentin ); Susanne Mentzer ( Siebel ); Brigitte Fassbaender ( Marthe ); Philippe Fourcade ( Wagner ); Welsh Natl Op O & Ch TELDEC 2564 67691 (3 CDs: 212:01)

This is a reissue of the greatest Faust ever recorded. Its glaring flaw is that Samuel Ramey, a basso cantate noted at the time for Mozart as much as anything else, did not have a trill and so sang none of them in Mephistopheles’ part; but, then again, neither does anyone else except Marcel Journet in an otherwise overloud, grating recording made c.1929. It’s a pity, because Mephistopheles’ trills highlight the sardonic, mock-elegant side of his nature, as Journet proved so well, but I will forfeit this in lieu of so much else that goes right here.

What makes this performance so exceptional is the conducting of Carlo Rizzi. Eschewing the usual glib, breezy conducting one hears in this opera about 99 percent of the time (or the overly heavy, ponderous approach of André Cluytens in his two recordings for EMI), Rizzi manages to integrate the heavy Germanic elements of the score into the lighter French style, a combination that confused and infuriated Parisian audiences when the work premiered. They were puzzled and put off by both the heavy scoring and the opera’s exceptional length, especially because it was originally given as an opéra-comique with spoken dialogue and no ballet (both the sung recitatives and the Walpurgis Night ballet music—not to mention Valentin’s “Avant de quitter”—came much later). Hector Berlioz was a bit annoyed that Gounod had such a success with a Faust opera after his own Damnation de Faust had failed to establish itself. Yet the interesting musicological question here is, exactly what German music did Gounod use as a model for his scoring? Weber’s Die Freischütz, sung in French, was fairly popular in France at the time, but even Weber’s orchestration is not as heavy as certain moments in Faust. Could it be that Wagner’s Tannhäuser left a mark? Possibly. But listen to the overture, the opening scene, even Walpurgis Night—all of these have an extremely heavy, almost thick orchestral texture that Wagner did not really use until he composed the Ring. Could Schumann’s symphonies have been played in Paris at the time? Enquiring minds want to know.

With the exception of Ramey’s lack of a trill, the music is sung come scritto, and the most outstanding performance is the late Jerry Hadley’s Faust. Though naturally possessed of a very bright, almost too-open tone, he controls and colors it here with exceptional artistry. He is the only Faust I’ve ever heard who actually sounds resigned and bitter in the opening scene. He sings his two high Cs (in the Kermesse scene and “Salut, demeure”) softly, in head voice, as written. “Salut, demeure” is sung with a wistful, tender feeling that no other recording captures. He is warm and loving in the Garden Scene, distraught and dramatically involved in both the Walpurgis Night and prison scenes. In short, he is perfect.

Cecilia Gasdia is scarcely less good. She is the most tender, warm, and loving Marguerite on records; she makes “Le Roi de Thule” interesting by her Lieder-like reading of the lyrics, the “Jewel Song” exultant and rhapsodic without over-driving the voice. She goes mad slowly, by degrees, and ends up in the prison scene fully detached and demented. Ramey may indeed emphasize the sardonic quality of Mephistopheles over the elegant “Seigneur” he poses as, but again, no one since Journet had combined both qualities well. Susanne Mentzer’s voice is a bit fluttery, with a rapid vibrato that never smoothes out, but she characterizes so well that I forgive her this one blemish. Brigitte Fassbaender is one of the funniest, most characterful of Marthe Schwertleins, and in the Garden Scene the quartet is a real quartet, the voices blending as perfectly as on any ancient Pathé, Fonotipia, or Victor record you may wish to drag up for comparison. Alexandru Agache, a superb baritone who had only a brief career in the U.S. (Houston Opera in 1992, the Metropolitan in 1999), presents a noble, characterful Valentin on a par with such legendary interpreters as Battistini or Tibbett.

Rizzi, knowing that the Walpurgis Night ballet was added late and that Gounod only did so under duress, includes it here as an appendix. It’s really good opera ballet music, but it does break the thread of the drama. All things considered, this is your reference recording for Faust, though personally I’d also pick up a Journet recital on CD that includes some of his acoustically recorded excerpts from the opera to hear how the music goes with all the trills and a little more elegance in characterization. No libretto is included, alas, but Faust is so well known that unless you are a neophyte opera listener you won’t miss it.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Faust by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Brigitte Fassbaender (Mezzo Soprano), Cecilia Gasdia (Soprano), Jerry Hadley (Tenor),
Samuel Ramey (Bass), Susanne Mentzer (Mezzo Soprano), Philippe Fourcade (Baritone),
Alexandru Agache (Baritone)
Conductor:  Carlo Rizzi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Welsh National Opera Chorus,  Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859; France 
Length: 201 Minutes 44 Secs. 

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