Szenen aus Goethes Faust is one of the best-kept secrets of romantic music theatre. In this magnum opus, Schumann pays tribute to Goethe. Both of these artists made Faustus and his pact with the devil into their life’s work, in both cases utterly unique and timelessly universal.
Faust is a disappointed scholar, fruitlessly searching for the most profound truth. Mephistopheles takes him in tow in exchange for his soul. This will lead ultimately to deliverance, but the journey is an existential rollercoaster ride of endeavour, falling and again and again scrambling to his feet. Faust: that’s us.
Schumann captures the essence of the drama in seven iconic scenes that get relentlessly under your skin. It’s not worth trying to categorise this score: like Faust, the listener is in for a switchback-ride through a landscape of unprecedented colour. Opera crossed with oratorio; an orchestral song wafts past polyphonic church music; a children’s chorus can be heard in the distance. And yet the part and the whole do not lose sight of each other for a moment.
The conductor Philippe Herreweghe says Szenen aus Goethes Faust is nothing less than a masterpiece. According to him, Schumann’s theatrical writing requires a visual setting. And this is supplied by the ideal person: Julian Rosefeldt, director of such films and installations as Manifesto (2015) with Cate Blanchett. Together with the choreographer Femke Gyselinck, he sets Schumann’s Faust resolutely in the here and now. The counterpoint of video, dance and acting brings the whole richness of the Faustian condition to life: from tragic love to relentless progress and an ultimate transfiguration of cosmic dimensions.