The National Theatre and The State Opera Choruses
The National Theatre Orchestra
By calling his Faust fresco a “légende dramatique”, Hector Berlioz, one of the pivotal figures of 19th-century Romantic programme music, perplexed his contemporaries, as well as the generations to come, making them pose the question of whether the work was a traditional opera, a modern-time scenic oratorio, or a concert cantata. The composer himself hesitated as to how to classify the piece, and even though he ultimately gave it a form that is most akin to opera, La damnation de Faust has always been performed mainly on the concert stage. Conducive to this practice is its fundamental dramaturgical plan, based on the compelling juxtaposition between the private universe of the procrastinator and sceptic Faust, who is, in a fatal way, only roused from his lethargy by Mephistopheles’s demonic engagement, and the eventful, multilayered world around, represented by the large chorus, extremely variable in terms of expression, often sounding monumental, yet merely statically, “sonically”, beyond Faust’s recluse privacy.
A pioneer of modern musical drama and programme music, Berlioz was fascinated by great works of global literature, particularly the plays of Shakespeare and Goethe’s poem Faust. He even numbered as Opus 1 his cantata titled Huit scènes de Faust, which he composed at the age of 26 in 1829. Although he ultimately repudiated the piece, many years later he would return to Faust and in 1845 create the mentioned légende dramatique, featuring, in addition to the refined contradiction between the objectivity of the world at large and the subjectivity of Faust’s heart, an engrossing, typically French lyrical music. Berlioz’s fascinating piece has yet to be performed at the National Theatre in Prague.