Elderly Faust and Young Faust
There are two particularly successful passages in this new Faust. The beginning: in a large apartment flooded with sunlight and more German or Austrian than Parisian (height of ceiling, harmony of green, creamy white, in the background a huge library loaded with books), an old man (silent role of Jean- Yves Chilot) gets dressed near a sofa where a lovely young woman sleeps who wakes up soon, asks the man for the salary of his amorous services and runs away. In the garden, in the shade, settles Benjamin Bernheim, who begins his initial air, In vain I question, in my ardent vigil, while old Faust mimics his solitude, sometimes with silent cinema gestures. The passage from old age to youth is thus subtly brought about by this duplication, without anything heavy, also bringing to light a very exact feeling, that old people often still feel inside at the time of their adolescence; and this will be an axis of Tobias Kratzer’s work, how to make the age of his arteries coincide with the age of his feelings.
Marguerite in an endless tunnel
Méphisto then enters as if by breaking and entering, accompanied by six imps such as characters from Bret Easton Ellis or Frédéric Beigbeider, all dressed in black and without scruples. And the young Bernheim comes to replace on stage the old actor who leaves in silence. Faust’s metamorphosis has taken place.
In the other scene, Marguerite, pregnant, abandoned by Faust, is in the metro, the video films her. All the passengers get off, she remains lost in her thoughts without seeing the only traveler, Méphisto: it is then the great duo that Gounod placed in the church with a praying Marguerite and a sarcastic Mephisto. Here, the distraught young woman, in this closed space, this phantom metro that rushes through its tunnel in an endless race, the image of eternal damnation, opposes her weak faith (which will switch to infanticide) to this executioner whose she doesn’t know who he is. It is moreover, more generally, one of the qualities of the staging of Tobias Kratzer, declared director of the year several times by various German newspapers, than to use the video most often (not always) wisely, also a means of bringing together all the possible threads of this monster subject that is Faust.
A Faust closer to Goethe
A Faust more marked by the spirit of Goethe, by this theme of eternal youth, even immortality, which, among the Germans (more sensitive to Protestantism), rather makes Mephisto a kind of inner demon who incarnates to guide Faust’s consciousness towards the darkest choices – and we see there arise, through the unforeseen murder by Faust of Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, the determinism of good and evil. We recall, in passing, even if it is from an Englishman (but, therefore, from another Saxon), that Christopher Marlowe, this contemporary of Shakespeare, in his own Faust, makes Mephisto, the one who guides Faust in the reckless unconsciousness of his burning acts, a very young man.
At Gounod God save the repentant
And it is in this that the Faust de Gounod is, and will be, more and more difficult to assemble, in spite of his musical beauty – besides, since we are there, let us already salute the direction of Lorenzo Viotti, at the head of an orchestra of the Opera always remarkable, which mixes very well the charming virtuosity of certain pages, the sometimes terrible gravity of others and the poetry of some such as the ravishing aria of Siebel (a Michèle Losier remarkable in this role of transvestite), often, and unfairly, cut, Pour your sorrows into my soul, who, in his tender compassion, foreshadows the boy’s sad fate. In this, that Gounod is a French Catholic … and, what is more, having thought of the priesthood. And this is also why we go, in Goethe, from a Marguerite condemned and punished for having committed infanticide, to a Marguerite guilty of the same crime in Gounod but Saved for God alone has the power to save souls, even repentant criminals (Marguerite’s last words: Just God, I surrender to you / Good God, I am yours, forgive), since also, and still today for the Catholic authorities, the laws of the Most High prevail over the human laws.
Religion and the army in retreat
Conflict therefore because Tobias Kratzer, fed in Goethe, will happily skip the religious dimension of the work: the metro replaces the church, it is irrelevant that the prayers (This is where Marguerite comes to pray every evening, chant Siebel) take place in front of letter boxes; and Mephisto, who is really with Gounod, the Devil, the Evil One, finds here a role of conscience, almost amused, barely presenting from time to time the pact to be signed with his blood by Faust like any contract in three copies that are locked in a binder and then forgotten.
And as, at the time (1859), religion, in a Second Empire at its zenith, was inseparable from arms, Kratzer also ignores the departure and return of soldiers (it would have been so simple, but can -be less obvious for a German, to make these soldiers since, we will have understood, this Faust is a present-day Faust, fighters returning from Afghanistan or Mali); so that looks famous Immortal glory of our ancestors looks like nothing, launched without nuances by the choir – it is far from the stroke of genius of Jorge Lavelli to make it a song of crippled veterans, symbols of all wars including the wins.
But captivating scenes that make sense
However, by the intelligence of its points of support and the inventiveness of several passages (and also by the work on the scenography and on the direction of actors), Kratzer succeeds in intriguing us, captivating us, seducing us to the point of at the end, better, convince us that this Faust-There still things to tell us (and it is besides the words of Barbier and Carré which have really aged, much more than the music): the flight of Méphisto and Faust above an enlightened Paris, like two male witches, or their nocturnal ride. Their “landing” on the towers of Notre-Dame, gargoyle in the foreground (homage to the Hugo in the novel), before a very “inflated” but coherent use of the recent drama which marked the building; the scene between Siebel and Marguerite pregnant at the gynecologist’s where the ultrasound (a magnificent idea that is not in the opera!) explains better than anything the future infanticide. And this disturbing (and too rapid) end where Kratzer gives us a new version of the love sacrifice while also making (Faust has found his old face and his helplessness) Marguerite not a mystic who asks God for forgiveness but an unhappy woman chanting her Pure angel, radiant angel, in a fit of madness which brings her closer to sacrificed heroines like Ophélie or Lucia de Lamermoor, now doomed to suicide or asylum.
The luxurious Valentin by Florian Sempey
Suddenly we will forgive Kratzer some “modern” uselessness, a basketball coach Valentine (!), Who allows to place on stage some colored extras whose only role is to hold a ball – as there are things to sing, it is the choir of the Opera which tries with difficulty to play the cailleras, the only find of the scene being a Faust-Bernheim also wanting to imitate the youth in a few clumsy gestures, and for good reason, since he does not know the rituals.
And it takes a luxury Valentine like Florian Sempey to sing us the tune Before leaving these places of the departing soldier, a tune that we listen to for the beauty of the incarnation regardless of what he tells us, an impressive Sempey also at the time of his death, as if he were (he stands up to him!) Mephisto’s real enemy as a guardian of moral … Christian values!
A central trio of quality
The Marguerite of Ermonela Jaho worries more at first: a He was a king of Thule lacking in simplicity, a Jewelry air with a confused line of vocals and bass that doesn’t come out badly, reminding us, moreover, that the role requires a mezzo register. But the actress quickly settles her character, lost between her destructive passion and the guilty fruit of it, with impulses to which the voice gives an emotion which, little by little, overwhelms.
Kratzer’s Faust is nonexistent as rarely: always lagging behind Mephisto, also overtaken – including in the great love scene where, because of Covid, the lovers cannot touch each other. But precisely: it is only through the song of Benjamin Bernheim that the character is embodied, beauty and fullness of the voice, projection without reproach, disconcerting ease of the treble, and the tenor lends itself very well to this withdrawal from the game, leaving in the foreground the remarkable Méphisto by Christian Van Horn, beautiful bass which puts in his character the right irony which makes him almost sympathetic: Méphisto is a player, lucid on the human soul, this humanity which is unleashed in techno jiggles on the famous waltz (of which Viotti has the excellent idea of highlighting the choir by relegating the orchestral part) before the famous conclusion of Méphisto: And Satan is leading the way. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo (Dame Marthe) and Christian Helmer (Wagner) complete the cast very well.
So Kratzer succeeds in his bet to take a fresh look at this work – and not so easy to conceive so that his subject still touches us. As for Gounod’s music, no problem, it turns out to be eternal, unlike youth …
Faust by Charles Gounod, recorded at the Opéra-Bastille, Paris, directed by Tobias Kratzer, musical direction by Lorenzo Viotti. Broadcast on France 5 on March 26 at 8:55 p.m. (and on France Musique on April 3 at 8 p.m.) then in replay on Culturebox
Source site blog.francetvinfo.fr