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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Faust (London version, 1864)
Faust Alja Farasin (tenor)
Méphistophélès Carlo Colombara (bass)
Marguerite Marjukka Tepponen (soprano)
Valentin Lucio Gallo (baritone)
Siébel Diana Haller (mezzo-soprano)
Marthe Ivana Srbljan (mezzo-soprano)
Brander (Wagner) Waltteri Torikka (baritone)
Croatian National Theatre in Rijeka Opera Orchestra and Choir/Ville
rec. 2016, Croatian National Theatre Ivan Zajc, Rijeka,
The French libretto and English translation may be accessed online NAXOS 8.660456-58 [3 CDs: 178:49]
Since the turn of the century studio recordings of standard operas
have become a rarity, and a new Faust hasnt appeared since the
1990s, when there were no less than three. One of those, the Chandos
English-language issue from 1999, is of course ruled out for linguistic
reasons, even though there are high musical values. Of the other two
the EMI set (now on Warner) has a French chorus and orchestra under
Michel Plasson with French singers in all the minor roles and Belgian
José Van Dam as Méphistophélès plus three
Americans with good French: Cheryl Studer, Richard Leech and Thomas
Hampson. The Teldec (also on Warner) has Welsh forces under Italian
maestro Carlo Rizzi and two Americans (Jerry Hadley and Samuel Ramey),
one Italian (Cecilia Gasdia) and one Romanian (Alexandru Agache) in
the leading roles and only one French singer among the minor roles.
If we look further back in recording history the situation is similar
with international singers in the central roles and sometimes French-speakers
in the supporting roles. Admittedly several of the stars
are fluent in French, Nicolai Gedda and Victoria de los Angeles for
instance, whose second recording with André Cluytens has claims
to still be one of the first recommendations, despite being made 60
years ago and with less than first class sound quality.
This new recording, set down three years ago in Rijeka in Croatia,
cannot boast any specific French credentials but is none the worse for
that. With a Finnish conductor, two Finnish, two Italian, two Croatian
and one Slovenian soloist the ensemble constitutes a truly international
mix. The recording is lifelike and atmospheric and I believe one important
factor is the acoustics of the beautiful Rijeka National Theatre, built
in 1885. Ville Matvejeff, who is principal guest conductor and music
advisor for the Rijeka National Opera House, knows the acoustics and
the orchestra inside out which is an excellent basis for a good performance.
He conducts a stringent and rhythmically alert performance, free from
oversentimental sweetness and gives due weight to the dark sides of
the score, notably the Walpurgis Night in act V. At the same time he
is lenient to the singers and the pacing throughout feels absolutely
right, never sluggish, never pushing ahead unduly, in other words its
a reading free from idiosyncrasies. The playing and singing of the choral
and orchestral forces is excellent and well on a par with what more
prestigious opera houses can deliver
And the solo singing is also on an exalted level, even though not
all the names are well-known. Alja Farazin is currently principal
tenor in the house and had recently added Faust to his repertoire when
the recording was made. Initially I thought he lacks the elegance one
expects from a good Faust, but he has heft, glow and brilliance up high
and when we reach the third act and his cavatina (CD 2 tr. 3) there
is no doubt that he has the measure for it. The high C glows effortlessly.
Later on in the act (CD 2 tr. 11) the duet with Marguerite is sensitively
sung and the voices blend beautifully. Where he seems a bit uncomfortable
is in the drinking song in the Walpurgis scene (CD 3 tr. 13) but he
manages it with flying colours even so.
I was eagerly looking forward to hearing Marjukka Tepponen, whom I
heard as a wonderful Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi in Helsinki some years
ago. We have to wait until well into act II, when Marguerite appears
in full-length, but there she shows her mettle with lovely restrained
singing in the Roi de Thulé aria (CD 2 tr. 6) with the beautiful
voice conjuring up a sense of vulnerability. Very touching! This is
followed by a glittering Jewel Song (CD 2 tr. 7) with secure trills.
Further on she is just as innocent and vulnerable in the scene with
the spinning-wheel, and the ecstasy of Marguerite in the concluding
prison scene is tangible. Her singing in the trio is also wonderful.
I had expected Carlo Colombaras Méphistophélès
to be magnificent and so he turned out to be. Le veau dor (CD
1 tr. 7) is of course a show piece that seldom goes wrong and his larger-than-life
reading is magnificent, and his diabolic laughter in the serenade (CD
3 tr. 8) is spine-chilling. But he is great throughout, black-voiced
and dramatic. His voice is still in fine fettle, even though there are
some signs of wear, not least in the church scene, but he is strong
and magnificent and he snarls convincingly.
The veteran in the ensemble, Lucio Gallo, made his debut in the mid-1980s
and has appeared on all the great stages around the operatic world.
One cant disregard some signs of ageing and Valentin is
supposed to be a young man but his powers are still undiminished
and he sings Avant de quitter ces lieux (CD 1 tr. 6) with a good legato.
When he returns from the war in act IV he is scarred and disillusioned,
strong and soldier-like. His death-scene is touching but lacks the last
ounce of French elegance. Of the minor roles Ivana Srbljan is an expressive
Marthe, singing with face and Diana Haller is an excellent
Siebél and delivers a delicious Romance (CD 2 tr. 1) at the beginning
of act III. Waltteri Torikka, a singer Ive also encountered in
Helsinki, has few opportunities to make his mark in the rather ungrateful
role of Wagner but he has some lines in the students chorus at
the beginning of act II.
The overall impression of the recording is utterly positive. In as
crowded a field as the discography of Faust, any newcomer has to face
competition from some of the worlds greatest conductors and singers.
On my personal short-list of recordings limited to studio-made
stereo recordings I have, in chronological order: André
Cluytens (los Angeles, Gedda, Christoff); Gianfranco Rivoli (Alarie,
Simoneau, Rehfuss); Colin Davis (Te Kanawa, Araiza, Nesterenko); Michel
Plasson (Studer, Leech, Van Dam); Carlo Rizzi (Gasdia, Hadley, Ramey).
This newcomer doesnt oust any of those but can proudly be added
to the list and Im convinced that I will return to it with confidence,
most of all for Marjukka Tepponens lovely Marguerite but also
for the overall excellence.
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