The DVD cover art is ominous enough. What looks like the outside of a crumbling ancient Roman aqueduct dominates the stage, with a multitiered cylinder in front. Is this what the 1999 Salzburg Festival had in mind for poor old Faust in Hector Berlioz''s involving and original "legend dramatique in four acts"? Apparently so. Stage directors Alex Olle and Carlos Padrissa''s demented take on a work that has been variously staged or presented simply in concert form is so disastrous that it''s actually worth a look. (In its defense, it''s possible that this staging needed to be experienced in person, where its physical monumentality might have approximated the masterly score.)
Musically, this is a superlative performance: Paul Groves is a sympathetic Faust, Willard White is an appropriately menacing Mephistopheles, and Vesselina Kasarova is an exquisite Marguerite. Sylvain Cambreling sensitively conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin, and two excellent choirs'' vocal contributions should not go unnoticed. (However, condolences to those choir members stuck in that ludicrous cylinder.) Both visual presentation and sound are, as usual for Arthaus Musik discs, first-rate; only the staging itself comes off as less than worthwhile. --Kevin Filipski
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