A Fistful of Faust From Barcelona: Schumann’s Scenes With Josep Pons

SpainSpain R. Schumann, Scenes from Goethe’s Faust: Soloists, Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus Gran Teatre del Liceu. Josep Pons (conductor), Barcelona’s  Liceu, 27.10.2011 (JMI)

Concert Version

Faust, Doctor Marianus, Pater Seraphicus: Michael Volle
Gretchen, Penitent: Ofelia Sala
Mephistopheles, Evil Spirit:Gunther Groissböck
Ariel, Pater Ecstaticus: Roberto Saccá
Pater Profundus: Attila Jun
Marthe, Inquietude: Elena Copons
Misery, Magna Peccatrix: Susana Cordón
Insolvency, Mater Gloriosa, Samaritan woman: Sara Fulgoni
Scarcity, Maria Aegyptiaca: Gemma Coma-Alabert

Robert Schumann is well-known as an opera composer with Genoveva his only finished product in the genre. Neither Das Paradies und die Peri or Scenes from Goethe’s Faust are properly operas, though there have been efforts to restore them to the stage in recent years. Regarding this Faust, the title of the work alone indicates that it was not written for an opera house. If the first part might debatably be performed as an opera, the last part leaves little doubt about its stage-suitability: there’s no question in my mind that these ‘Scenes’ have their rightful place in a concert hall.

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R.Schumann, Scenes from Goethe’s Faust,
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After hearing it so-so in concert directed in 2009 (conducted by Jesús López Cobos at Teatro Real, review on Seen and Heard here), I had considerable expectations for what Josep Pons could offer here, at the Liceau in Barcelona where it appears that Faust is the theme of the month. (See review of the Liceau’s season opening Faust from Gounod.) It is not a good idea to get one’s expectations up, though, because it only sets oneself up for disappointment. And this is what happened on this occasion. Josep Pons’ reading was soporific and heavy-handed, only eventually improving during the second half—and he earned himself some isolated boos at curtain. I enjoyed even López Cobos’ better than that. The Liceu orchestra was at its usual mediocre level, while the chorus was excellent.

Things were better as far as the cast was concerned. German baritone Michael Volle was a remarkable interpreter of Faust, Pater Seraphicus, and Doctor Marianus—at his best in the second half of the concert. Schumann was not very friendly to singers, including near- impossible notes for Faust, but Michael Volle coped with it, if uncomfortably.

As in Madrid, Ofelia Sala gave life to Gretchen, and to the brief part of the Penitent in the final scene. She was good, rather light and with little volume. Austrian bass Gunther Groissböck was an excellent Mephistopheles. He was very well suited to the character, better than Michele Pertusi in Madrid. Roberto Saccá was no more than correct as Ariel. Attila Jun was a sonorous Pater Profundus.

Jose Mª Irurzun