'Damn braces: Bless relaxes' William Blake
Goethe's Faust gripped the imagination of the civilised world. Hector Berlioz was gripped amongst those; he couldn't wait to start setting it to music. A vast cantata was his work although its dramatic possibilities have spawned many staged versions, thousands of performances in the Paris Opera where forty years ago I saw the fattest Marguerite and Faust ( memorable also because Dinh Gilly was the most mellifluous Faust ever).
The latest performance was given in the Royal Festival Hall on April 30 and it did full justice to this (mostly inspired ) work conducted by veteran conductor Charles Dutoit with the orchestra whose director he is - the Royal Philharmonic, superbly supported by the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, in the finale by the New London Children's Choir.
There are three protagonists : Faust himself , Marguerite and Mephistopheles. Faustsings like mo st French tenors of his century, including the fashionable high C (Tenors visiting Rossini were told to park their high Cs in the cloakroom before entering his drawing room).
Berlioz brilliantly avoids fully characterising the golden plaited Marguerite by giving her two of the most exquisite, touching and poetic songs in all music.
Mephisto scoops the pool. this devil doesn't have quite all the best tunes (only most of them). His is the weirdest music, the most Berliozian, electric, he is the ear catcher. Sir Willard White has been singing this part as long as I can remember but he is still the best, musically as outstanding as his voice. He has a resonance only ever equalled by the great Paul Robeson.
The unforgettable orchestral moments were duly unforgettable - the three piccolos squirming about like eels, the graceful Sylphs , the eloquent viola solo and the Hungarians so brazenly brassy. It was a great evening, only slightly let down, as usual, when the bracing stops and the final heaven starts to bless too long.