, February 2009
Ferrucio Busoni’s Doktor Faust is an opera that I am a bit unfamiliar with, but it’s recent addition to Blu-ray courtesy of Naxos on their [distributed] Arthaus Musik label has made a quick fan out of me, in fact this is perhaps my favorite production thus far and our coverage has been fairly vast even in the early stages of Blu-ray, but we have not been disappointed yet with the lineup that Arthaus has put out.
Busoni had been working on Doktor Faust between the years 1916 and 1924, but never finished it and the three-part opera has been performed numerous times with multiple interpretations of what was intended by Busoni. For this Blu-ray release we have the a newly created version performed at the Zurich Opera House in 2006, which features Busoni’s pupil Philipp Jarnach as the main consultant to this version with conductor Maestro Philippe Jordan taking the reigns on what turns out to be a magnificent production and performance from start to finish.
Of course the story of Goethe’s Faust has appeared in a variety of versions and interpretations and that lies at the very core of this opera with Doctor Faust (world renowned tenor Thomas Hampson) playing a man hell-bent on knowledge and power. When he learns about a magical black book that delivers incredible power, he must have it even though his pupil Wagner tries to convince him otherwise as he has seen what those who have used the book look like. Despite good advice the Doctor uses the book and summons Lucifer who then offers him a servant called Mephistopheles, who ends up giving him wishes in return for his soul. For those familiar with the story the rest is his rise and then inevitable downfall after gaining power and then losing it at the hands of Lucifer whose only care was his soul to begin with.
What makes this performance so amazing and spectacular though is Thomas Hampson who single-handedly transforms this opera to a whole new level of awesome. His performance as Doctor Faust is exciting, intelligent, and so carefully handled that it’s mesmerizing to watch. The Zurich Chorus is also stunning and helps support the featured roles in the opera and the overall production design and execution is top notch.
As if this particular performance wasn’t strong enough, its release to Blu-ray will knock your socks off, seriously. Starting with the impeccably detailed and stunning 1.78 X 1 transfer in 1080i, Doktor Faust is simply marvelous to look at. The set design, costumes, and staging are incredibly three-dimension with refined color, depth, and resolution that brings the opera straight into your home theater. We have seen some incredibly great material released thus far from Naxos on their various opera labels, but Doktor Faust is thus far the strongest from Arthaus and is a must-have for any fan or serious Blu-ray enthusiast.
Not only is the transfer strong on this Blu-ray release, but the audio is dynamite as well with an engagingly strong DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that matches the performance of the picture quality. In addition to the DTS mix there is also a PCM 2.0 mix that is also impressive, but different in nature. The 7.1 mix is as expected more ambient in nature with a mix that fills the room in a more acoustic-type of way with sound bleeding from all channels and encompassing the listener with some impressive fidelity and musical reproduction that is stunning. The PCM 2.0 mix is a more natural mix that feels more balanced in nature with only two channels providing the sound it feels more contained and less open, but this will ultimately come to the listener’s preference and that is what we love about having the two options here. Either way, both mixes are phenomenal and will not disappoint.
Like with all their opera releases, Arthaus Musik provides a highly detailed booklet inside the Blu-ray packaging that details much of the production and helps give us the necessary information to further appreciate their catalog of material. There are two interviews on the Blu-ray as well and there is a gallery and trailers for other productions as well. This is a 50GB disc that it’s evident that much of that space went to the real material and that is where it should go, but the interviews with Philippe Jordan and Thomas Hampson are incredibly insightful as they discuss the material and other fascinating aspects of the production that will enhance the viewer’s perceptions in some marvelous ways.
The only thing left to really say is…GRAB IT!