Faust (Kraus, 1985)


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Kraus, A. Gonzales, Ghiuselev, Coviello, Vespasiani; Guingal. The only video Faust with the Walpurgis Night scene. In French, no subtitles. (1985). 191m. Color, 2 cassettes

This is a lovely performance in a lovely production with 19th-century costumes. The performers serve the music.

As befits Marguerite, Anna Maria Gonzales is charming. She’s fetchingly girlish at the beginning of the final scene, which she sings with a tone quality all but unheard today, the voce infantile (a childlike sound). Then she changes to a full-bodied tone at Méphistophélès’s entrance. Most who use the voce infantile use it all the time; Gonzales is almost alone in being able to switch back and forth. (A more striking case of this is Rosina Wolf, who switched back and forth freely, with various in-between tints.) In the trio at the end, Gonzales gives spinal chills.

Faust falls flat without a colorful Méphistophélès. Ghiuselev dominates the performance without resorting to exaggerations. His voice has bite, with a tone color in the prison scene reminiscent of Chaliapin.

Among major tenors the two with the biggest breath spans are Corelli and Kraus. Kraus lacks Corelli’s charisma, Bergonzi’s warmth, Di Stefano’s passion and feeling for words. Kraus’s virtues are musicianly: accurate pitch and rhythm, tapered phrases. Sometimes he’s not without passion. Consider his Werther, Act III, his Favorita, Act III .

Kraus is at his best in this Faust. His generally understated approach suits the role even if he does overload “Salut! demeure” with ritards. (Gounod supposedly liked Emma Eames because she abstained from “ritarditis.”) He’s almost alone in singing the phrase with the high C at the end of “Salut! demeure” in one breath. Yet he manages to hold the note a long time–but not quite as long as the four-minute ovation that follows. He smiles, bows and blows kisses. The only better Faust than Kraus in forty years is Björling. —Stefan Zucker