ESTONIAN NATIONAL OPERA
Released on Feb 26th, 2015.
When thus I hail the Moment flying:
“Ah, still delay—thou art so fair!”
Then bind me in thy bonds undying,
My final ruin then declare!
(J. W. Goethe Faust)
|Opera: Act 1||1:14:50|
|Opera: Act 2||1:10:00|
Doctor Faust: Oliver Kuusik
Méphistophélès, satan: Ain Anger (Wiener Staatsoper)
Marguerite: Joanna Freszel (Poland)
Valentin, soldier, Marguerite’s brother: Rauno Elp
Siébel, Faust’s student: Helen Lokuta
Wagner, Valentin’s friend: Mart Laur
Old Faust: Urmas Põldma
Faust’s new girlfriend: Airike Kolk
Dancers in the cabaret: dancers of the Estonian National Ballet
Conductor: Vello Pähn
Stage Director: Dmitri Bertman (Helikon-Opera, Moscow)
Designer: Ene-Liis Semper (NO99)
Choreographer: Edvald Smirnov (Russia)
Assistant to the Choreographer: Hedi Pundonen
Producer: Silva Valdt
Consultant on Acting: Helgi Sallo
Chorus Masters: Hirvo Surva, Marge Mehilane
Pianists-Repetiteurs: Tarmo Eespere, Riina Pikani, Ivo Sillamaa, Ralf Taal
Stage Manager: Rein Taidla
Video director: Ülle Õun
Recording producer: Ruth Alaküla
Sound engineers: Tanel Klesment, Kaspar Karner
DVD authoring and mastering by Jüri Tallinn
Photos: Harri Rospu, Liina Viru
Booklet compiled by Liina Viru
DVD design: Mart Kivisild
Producer: Peeter Vähi
PAL, 16:9, Region – All, Stereo, subtitles in English and Estonian
℗ 2014 ERR, © 2015 Estonian national Opera, ERP (Tallinn)
Faust has dedicated his entire life to the stubborn and persistent study of the hidden secrets of the world; however, now, during the twilight of his life, the old scholar has come to understand the futility of human mind and science. “In vain − another sleepless night considering nature, and God. I languish alone, powerless to break the bonds that keep me in this world…”
He turns to Devil, cursing the world, his dreams, his thirst for knowledge, and even God. At that instant, Méphistophélès appears before him. Faust is confused and frightened. He tries to chase the Devil away − alas, in vain. Méphistophélès offers the old scholar wealth, fame and power. The latter can only be enticed with youth, which would help to ignite the flames of love in the heart of maiden Marguerite. The Archfiend agrees − Faust can become young again but only on one condition: here on earth, Méphistophélès is his humble servant; there, in Hell, Faust’s soul must belong to the Devil. The old scholar signs the contract.
The city is filled with joyous excitement. There is laughter and jesting. Only Marguerite’s brother Valentin is not in festive spirits. He is going away to war and his beloved sister will stay behind alone. Valentin turns to God with the prayer to guard Marguerite from evil and temptation. Valentin’s friend Siebel vows to protect the maiden.
The attention of the crowd turns to the stranger who has joined them. This is Méphistophélès, retelling about the omnipotence of gold that will lead humankind to sorrow and carnage. He predicts that Wagner is about to face a woeful future and asserts that Siebel’s touch will make all flowers wither. Unexpectedly, Méphistophélès proposes to drink to Marguerite. The offended friends of the young woman decide to punish the insolent stranger. Valentin is the first to draw his sword only to see it shatter instantly. The young men realise that Satan himself is standing before them.
Faust is yearning to meet Marguerite. The man sees the maiden, approaches her and tries to engage her in conversation. Marguerite answers curtly and hurries to leave. Having been rejected by the beauty, Faust is desperate and depressed. Méphistophélès encourages the young man and promises to help Faust in his endeavours to conquer the heart of the maiden.
Siebel sings of love. However, the flowers he has picked wither at his first touch. Faust and Méphistophélès are in the garden. The latter is convinced that Faust’s wonderful presents will help to win his way into the heart of the young enchantress. Faust and Méphistophélès exit, leaving behind a jewel box. Marguerite enters. She is singing an old ballad of a king but her thoughts keep returning to the young stranger. She notices Siebel’s bouquet of flowers and a mysterious box next to it. She gives in to temptation and tries on the jewellery.
At last, Faust and Marguerite are alone. The young man cannot hide his feelings any longer. Méphistophélès commands the night to embrace the lovers with its shadow and “you, the fragrant flowers: Bloom in my satanic hands”. The passionate and tender confessions of Faust have deeply affected the maiden. In a blissful excitement, Marguerite turns to the stars entrusting them with her secret.
A triumphant military march signals the warriors’ return from the battle. Valentin is among the brave fighters. He is delighted to return to his native town and to be reunited with his friends. He is astonished by the behaviour of Siebel − the young man is distant and asks Valentin not to get angry with Marguerite. Valentin hurries to meet his beloved sister.
Valentin, having learned of Marguerite’s situation, draws his sword: whoever disgraced Marguerite must be punished! But Faust is not threatened by the duel. He has Méphistophélès’ protection, so the fight is going to be a short one. Faust deals a fatal blow to Valentin. A crowd gathers around the dying man. Marguerite attempts to alleviate her brother’s suffering but he pushes her away in anger. Valentin curses his sister and foretells a shameful death for her.
The church is resonant with the austere and dreary sound of an organ. Marguerite is trying to soothe her guilty conscience with prayers. However, in response, she hears awful words: “For you damnation! For you the fires of Hell!”
In despair, Marguerite kills her baby. The insane woman is declared a criminal and thrown in prison. She faces execution. Unbeknownst to everyone, Faust and Méphistophélès enter the prison. The maiden can only be saved before the dawn when the guard is fast asleep. Marguerite recognised the voice of her beloved. The anxious Méphistophélès rushes Faust: soon, it will be dawn. Marguerite refuses to leave with him − she is frightened by the evil she senses in the darkness. Salvation lies in sincerity and faith!
See also: libretto in Estonian and in English.
Gounod’s “Faust” is one of the most popular operas in the world − the majority of people can hum Méphistophélès’ aria by heart without trouble and with much enjoyment. There is something spellbinding in dark forces − alas, even children are more interested in evil sorcerers, witches and skeletons than in the love stories of princes and princesses.
Religion and sin in the opera?
It seems that due to lack of demand, Méphistophélès will become unemployed on Earth, because humans are willingly doing his job for him. Giving in to temptations is the favourite pastime of humans and we love to fall prey to it. Turning to God is man’s last resort: when the effect of pills wears out, when there is no one to talk to, when one is lonely at heart, when one has nothing to strive for… And only the chosen are redeemed.
The essence of Faust’s yearnings?
Faust’s reason to regain his youth seems strange to me. As a learned man, Doctor and lawyer, he does not ask Méphistophélès to give him back his youth to make another discovery or write another book or create something that still needs to be invented. He longs for a youthful body only to seduce Marguerite…
Méphistophélès looks for challenges and a battle, but humans are willingly doing his job for him. Therefore he cries in solitude for our ravenous world.
Gounod versus Goethe?
Even Gounod could not spoil Goethe! Gounod made the music of his opera very melodious and simple, so that even those, who have not read Goethe’s masterpiece, would understand this powerful story.
Marguerite was innocent enough to let Faust seduce her. In their first duet she tells Faust that she is ready to die for him. Faust charms Marguerite, who flees offended, because Faust does not understand the nobility of her feelings. But temptation brings her back! In her anguish, she turns to God and is redeemed. I love her!
Dmitry Bertman, stage director
Where does the work on a staging begin for a designer?
In case of an opera, music plays an important part. Before starting work, I listened to “Faust” several times and watched several DVDs with productions from all over the world but I didn’t really feel overly excited about any of them. They all seemed predictable and safe somehow. Then I started searching for my own approach. I had the idea of an upside-down world – at the moment when Faust makes the bargain with the devil and regains his youth, everything around him changes. Usually, the rejuvenation of Faust is depicted merely by changing the looks of the character, for instance by removing his beard. It seemed to me, however, that in the eyes of Faust, the world should change with him. The director loved the idea. Changing the whole world from one extreme to another, in other words from the church into the cabaret, adds a level of conditionality to the staging, and other characters can proceed from that as well. This allows us to evade the classical, true-to-history approach and at the same time, different lines of action can develop between the arias.
For Dima, his vision of Méphistophélès is important − the devil always presents a person with two choices: give in to temptation or deny it. Each time when a person is presented with the choices, he chooses the one that is worse and this poses a question: should a creature as stupid as a human being be given a choice in the first place? Méphistophélès, however, doesn’t give up hope… In Dima’s vision, the devil is always tremendously sad when people choose temptation. I find it quite inspiring – a Méphistophélès who is sad over Faust’s persistently wrong choices!
What are the possibilities that Gonoud’s “Faust” offers to a stage designer? Is this an exciting challenge?
I feel that the music and the all-encompassing subject matter make it a serious challenge. If Dima and I hadn’t each found our own proceeding points then we would have been in trouble. There’s no way I would have wanted to drag on one of these classical traditional solutions… this would have seemed boring, a defeat. Now everything is shown in a different light and new connections emerge constantly. An example: when we change all church-goers into cabaret crowd then we immediately run into the question of what is a decent girl like Marguerite doing there. The only way to introduce her into the cabaret atmosphere is to turn her into a waitress making an honest living. In the second act, her brother Valentin comes back from the war and asks for his sister. What he sees is a strange waitress who just reminds him of his sister. It appears that Marguerite has been let go because she flirted with Faust. When placed in a specific environment, logical relations emerge between characters and they are no longer abstract, just because “the libretto says so”. This adds playfulness to the opera.
With “Faust”, the character of Siebel was also a great challenge, as he is interpreted by both countertenors and mezzo-sopranos. It is always relatively implausible when a woman in trousers expresses her love for another woman. Here we are presented with a task that seems almost too difficult to solve. But each idea has to be adopted in some way. For me, Siebel is a character who is always present without anyone noticing him. He’s a tragic, unnoticed lover; a person who is diligent and nice but thoroughly uncharismatic. It could be said that he is a sad clown. We did the first makeup rehearsal with Helen Lokuta and it was absolutely hilarious! Now we are trying to proceed from here. Of course, other characters need to be revised in a similar light – maybe we also need to make Méphistophélès more theatrical.
What are the decisive points of this opera for you?
The price of Faust’s rejuvenation. The price of one intoxicating moment. So familiar, so human, so tragic.
What is the basis for creating the set and the costumes?
Giving characteristic traits to a character is a single task shared by the director, the artist and the actor. As in our case, the director sees the character of Méphistophélès in an unexpected and more human light, then obviously the character of Faust becomes more negative next to him. I’m trying to observe what’s happening in the rehearsals and how these relations come together. When I’m giving faces to characters I generally try to make it interesting for myself as well. When you have dealt with some material long enough and stayed open-minded towards it, then you’ll come to recognise the traits that are right. You can’t lose interest in creating new characters and new combinations. I remember when I first met Dima. Five years ago Paul Himma, who was the head of the Estonian National Opera at the time, called me and introduced me to Dima in the hopes that if we “clicked”, we could create Tüür’s “Wallenberg” together. I hadn’t heard of Dmitri Bertman before, I hadn’t met him. I was quite busy at the time and thought that unless I really liked the guy I was going to say no. Dima took an international opera magazine that was lying on the table and flicked through it in front of me, pointing out different photos and headings: “Boring! Boring! Boring! Boring! Annoying! Boring! Annoying!” He put down the magazine, smiled, and said, “Hey, how about if we do something interesting?” I started to laugh too. Dima is still a very good friend of mine. Isn’t this a great story?
Ene-Liis Semper, designer
Download the front cover (JPG. 300 dpi, 1.4 MB)
Download high-resolution photographs: Scene, act I (photo by Harry Rospu, JPG, RGB, 300 dpi, 17.6 MB), Old Faust − Urmas Põldma (photo by Harry Rospu, JPG, RGB, 300 dpi, 17.1 MB)
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