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Louise Bertin: Fausto
Karine Deshayes (Fausto), Karina Gauvin (Margarita), Ante Jerkunica (Mefistofele), Nico Darmanin (Valentino), Marie Gautrot (Catarina), Diana Axentii (A witch, Martha), Thibault de Damas (Wagner, A town crier), Flemish Radio Choir, Thomas Tacquet (chorus master), Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (conductor)
Recording: La Seine Musicale, Paris, France (June 15‑18, 2023) – 125’57
Bru Zane 1054 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in French and English, Libretto in Italian, French and English

Tunefully mapped from Goethe’s Faust (Part I), Louise Bertin was a bit ahead of herself with foresight and formulation of her own musical decree. Predating Berlioz’s oratorio, La Damnation de Faust (1846), and Gounod’s eponymous work of 1859, her writings encased an unusual scope for their time, laying credit to her teacher, Antoine Reicha (1770‑1836). Bertin turned to the vast literary Romantic landscape of the time. Fausto was third in line of only four operas she created in her lifetime. With a premiere on March 7, 1831 at the Théâtre-Italien, the semi‑seria work required an Italian libretto. While we hear emphatic Rossini shadings, her grounding affirms an anchor inside Classicism and the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. However, the style is unmatched and unique in its unorthodox harmonics and melodies.

This complete recording, under the helm of distinguished Christophe Rousset, has all the markings of a true trail‑blazing release. While Bertin’s music isn’t regularly followed by classical enthusiasts in genere, the discovery reveals use of recitativo secco (sparingly), the ‘patter technique’ (ref: Ante Jerkunica’s unblemished cadences inside Act II’s “Un amico mio diletto”) and harpsichord (one of several period instruments incorporated).

Returning after her 2014 performance of David’s Herculanum, Karine Deshayes, in the title role, has a bit more bite and steely fixity to her mezzo voice that’s ironically contrasted by a slightly deeper hue in the timbre of Karina Gauvin’s Margarita. Particularly penetrating is Mlle Deshayes’ cantabile, “Deh guarda, o ciel clemente”, that fills the airwaves with persuasion and elegant compassion. M. Jerkunica’s Mefistofele, while politely penetrating with resonant determination, refrains from overarching in his malevolent outreaches. “Stunning” can be attributed to Maltese Nico Darmanin’s Valentino as he sings with true Italianate bel canto athleticism, especially in the captivating aria, “Ah, mi batte il cor nel petto” in Act III.

The first chord, opening the “Ouverture”, immediately glances back to Don Giovanni, and appropriately so. Louise Bertin’s final blow to Fausto uses a crashing cymbal which stuns and brings a degree of modernity to the work, to some degree glancing forward to Boito’s 1867 Mefistofele.

Much of Louise Bertin’s score is unconventional: at times puzzling and a scosche quizzical. But surprises yield discovery. Fausto is an opera that requires the listener to revisit periodically in order to gain the full value and beauty of the composer’s musical intentions.

Christie Grimstad




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