Angela Gheorghiu stars as Marguerite alongside a divine cast of operatic superstars, including Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Sophie Koch, in David McVicar's spectacular 2004 production of Gounod's best known opera, Faust, for the Royal Opera House in London. This production was the Royal Opera Company's first performance of Gounod's Faust in 18 years. Gounod's Faust is the story of a scholar who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly indulgences. McVicar's innovative production sets this story around the time of the Franco-Prussian War (1870) in the gothic, seamy underbelly of Paris. He characterizes Faust, performed by Roberto Alagna, as a man both torn between the theater and religion, and grappling with his own sexuality.
The CD format for opera on records coincides with (and perhaps encourages) the modern habit in the opera house of running two or more acts together without an interval. Some operas benefit from this, but I don't think Faust is one of them. It strikes a genial bargain. ''I won't waste your time,'' it promises, ''but don't bother to come along if you haven't got a full evening-out to spare.''
David Zinman's performance of Coppelia is beautifully played and most naturally recorded. The warm acoustic of the Rotterdam concert hall certainly suites Delibes colourful scoring, and the gracefully delicate string-playing is nicely flattered. 'Les Sylphides' is a compilation of works by Frédéric Chopin. It was conceived as a ballet by Mikhail Fokin in 1909, and orchestrated by Roy Douglas in 1936. 3. Faust: Ballet Music by Charles Gounod.
In nearly every respect this is outstanding. The Rondo brillant and the Fantasie, both written for the virtuoso duo of Karl von Bocklet and Josef Slawik, can sound as if Schubert were striving for a brilliant, flashy style, foreign to his nature. Both are in places uncomfortable to play (when first published, the Fantasie’s violin part was simplified), but you would never guess this from Faust’s and Melnikov’s performance; they both nonchalantly toss off any problem passages as though child’s play. The Fantasie’s finale and the Rondo brillant are irresistibly lively and spirited, and this duo’s technical finesse extends to more poetic episodes – Melnikov’s tremolo at the start of the Fantasie shimmers delicately, while the filigree passagework in the last of the variations that form the Fantasie’s centrepiece have a delightful poise and sense of ease.