Presented by: Orchestra Wellington
Conducted by: Marc Taddei
Michael Fowler Centre 3rd Dec 2022
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
Robert Schumann was inspired by Goethe’s tragic play Faust, and spent nine years writing Scenes from Goethe’s Faust. The work requires impressive forces: full orchestra, nine vocal soloists, and an adult and a children’s choir. It is an ambitious undertaking and has not been performed in New Zealand until now. Orchestra Wellington is to be commended for presenting it.
Schumann chose seven excerpts from Goethe’s play, leaving the audience to fill in the storyline from their familiarity with the play. Taddei provided surtitles, but they did not help much in elucidating the implied narrative. It paid just to immerse oneself in the music.
The music was wonderful: dramatic, romantic, lyrical. Part 1 was romantic and tragic operatic fare of the highest order, concerning the consequences of an ill-starred relationship between Faust and a woman, Gretchen. Part 2 was darker and more dramatic, leading to the death of Faust. Part 3 concerns Faust’s transfiguration in heaven.
Playing Gretchen, Emma Pearson has a beautiful voice, being both pure and strong with a lovely upper register. Christian Thurston as Faust was not as convincing a character and had less cut-through against the orchestra. Wade Kernot as Mephistopheles, to whom Faust sells his soul, was impressive both in vocal quality and in characterisation. Of the several minor characters, tenor Jared Holt and soprano Barbara Paterson had strong voices and presence. I wondered if the singers might have had more impact in conveying their characters if they were placed in front of the orchestra rather than behind it.
Schumann was more inclined to call this work an oratorio than anything else. The gorgeous choral writing, particularly in Part 3, explains why. Both Orpheus Choir and St Mark’s Schola Cantorum performed well, with Orpheus producing both power and a beautiful pianissimo as required. The piping children’s choir was perfect.