Eleanor Steber, soprano (Marguerite), Eugene Conley, tenor (Faust),
Cesare Siepi, bass (MÈphistophÈlËs), Frank Guarrera, baritone (Valentin),
Margaret Roggero, mezzo-soprano (Siebel).
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera Association, Kurt
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is a bit of a "sleeper" among commercial recordings of Charles
Gounod's Faust. Discussions
of recommended versions usually begin with the 1930 EMI Paris OpÈra
recording - in primitive sound, but notable for the idiomatic
performance led by Marcel Journet's incomparable Mephisto.
Among the more modern recordings, the 1958 EMI version with
Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, Boris Christoff, and Ernest
Blanc often receives mention. But this 1951 Metropolitan Opera
recording from Columbia Records is also worthy of attention.
While far from ideal, it preserves some fine interpretations of
the principal roles, including two that can stand comparison with any
the cast is Cesare Siepi as Méphistophélès.
The 32-year-old basso is in his youthful prime.
The voice, of incredible beauty, range, and power would be
sufficient, in and of itself, to qualify Siepi as one of the finest
Mephistos on record. But
Siepi also gives a performance of considerable nuance and detail.
The Italian basso's French is quite good, and Siepi does a
fabulous job of differentiating between the Devil's seductive charm
and the evil that underlies it. As
a result, the confrontation with Marguerite in the church and the final
Prison Scene are all the more effective.
This is a fabulous performance in every way. I would go out on a limb and say that Siepi's contribution
alone justifies the set's purchase price.
this Faust also boasts one of the finest Marguerites. Eleanor Steber was a lyric soprano, but one whose voice
featured an unusual and striking combination of tonal richness and
admirable flexibility. These
qualities, which served Steber so well in the music of Mozart, also are
used to great advantage in her assumption of Marguerite. The coloratura of the Jewel Song is dispatched with aplomb.
And while Steber is able to capture the shy, innocent, nature of
Marguerite, she also masterfully portrays the passion of this woman, and
her despair after betrayal. As
in the case of Siepi, Steber makes this Faust a recording of
remainder of the cast is fine, although not on the level of Siepi and
Steber. Tenor Eugene Conley
does not bring any special interpretive touches to the title role but
his voice is attractive and strong, with ringing high notes.
He also maintains a fine legato and sings with an ardor befitting
the rejuvenated Faust. Frank
Guarrera is a healthy-voiced and decidedly un-Gallic Valentin. Margaret Roggero is more than adequate as Siebel. Accompaniment
by conductor Fausto Cleva and the Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
is sturdy, with a good sense of forward momentum, although there is nothing
that stands out as particularly memorable. Somewhat memorable, but for the wrong reasons, is the
contribution of the Metropolitan Opera chorusragged in ensemble, and
adopting the approach that nasality equals idiomatic French
pronunciation. The Walpurgis Night scene is cut.
The mono transfers (one assumes of an LP pressing) are quite good,
with a wide dynamic range and considerable presence.
No libretto is provided, just a brief essay, along with a listing
of the cast and CD tracks.
are due to Preiser Records for reissuing this valuable recording.
Perhaps Preiser can also see its way clear to give us CD versions
of some other 1950's Met recordings, such as the Cav and
Pag with Richard Tucker, and the first commercial recording of
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, conducted by the composer.