GOUNOD Faust / Kaufmann, Nézet-Séguin 0743812
Rear-stage projections are used throughout, very effectively, the quick flash from the bomb being only one. Earlier there are stunning close-up photos of Marguerite, a whirling sky, and for the Garden Scene . . . a backdrop of exquisite red roses. Marguerite's cell, darkly lit . . . is wonderfully sad and oppressive . . . the cast is both wonderful to look at and to listen to. Not enough, actually, can be said about Jonas Kaufmann's undertaking of the title role. His voice . . . is brilliant at the top, his French is quite good, his phrasing masterful and sensitive, and his attention to dynamics near-astounding. And the voice loses no center in this performance when he sings pianissimo -- it can often come across as crooning, but does not here. He manages a diminuendo on the high-B in the phrase "Je t'aime" near the end of the Kermesse Scene that is utterly perfect . . . he's grand to listen to and to watch . . . René Pape's Mefistofeles is well-drawn. Easy-going and witty at first and nastier as the opera goes on, his voice is a true luxury item -- perfectly rounded tone, bright and true at the top and rock solid everywhere else as well . . . [Marina Poplavskaya's] treatment of the text in the final trio, "Anges purs, anges radieux", has more intensity and sincerity than I've ever experienced . . . [Russell Braun's] Valentin is well-sung, well-acted, and memorable. Michèle Losier's boyish Siebel is full-voiced and Wendy White's Marthe is fine. Yannick Nézet-Séguin's leadership is elegant and smooth; rather than trying to find hidden meanings in Gounod's marvelously obvious tunes and harmonies, he has the orchestra play them as if they were new and masterpieces . . . Picture and sound, as well as direction for small screen, are superb . . .
. . . a splendid cast of singing actors doing their best to sell the piece. Kaufmann is simply magnificent with his trademark burnished tone ramping up the contrast of his heroic sound with his caddish persona. Poplavskaya was born to play Marguerite with her girlish look and tragic demeanour . . . her performance is all of a piece. The Wagnerian Pape has a ball playing Mephistopheles but doesn't descend into moustache-twirling camp and delivers a show-stopping "Ronde du Veau d'or". The supporting cast is fine with a standout Valentin and Nézet-Séguin shapes the whole with idiomatic elegance and coaxes refined playing from the orchestra. I watched the Blu-ray so the sound and image were of exemplary quality.