|About this Recording
8.555355 - Date with the Devil (Samuel Ramey)
A Date with the Devil
The Devil has long had a leading part to play in drama and in music, either menacing mortals in a medieval miracle play or leading romantic heroes and heroines into difficulties in the world of romantic opera. The nineteenth century found a particular fascination in the character of the Devil, a supposed source of diabolical inspiration for a Paganini or a Liszt or a principal figure in Faustian legend.
Dr Faustus himself, perhaps based on the early scientist and experimenter Paracelsus, found his place in German legend and in a moral publication of 1587 that warned of the dangers of intellectual speculation. This was the source of Christopher Marlowe's play, in which the good doctor, true to story, sells his soul to the Devil in return for a period of youth and consequent pleasure. In the following century the Devil acquires heroic stature in Milton's Paradise Lost to return with less ambiguity in Goethe's great poetic drama, the source of so much else in music and opera.
It is Goethe who is the source of inspiration for the French composer Hector Berlioz, with his >Eight Scenes from Faust, written in 1828 and 1829 under the impact of the translation of the first part of Goethe's Faust by Gerard de Nerval, which had appeared in 1827. In 1845 Berlioz returned to the subject, revising the earlier scenes and incorporating them into his dramatic legend La damnation de Faust (‘The Damnation of Faust’), described as an opéra de concert, which has also lent itself to staging. The text for the later work, still based on de Nerval, was adapted to its new purpose by Almire Gandonnière and the composer, and the new composition was first heard in a concert performance by the Opéra-Comique in Paris in December 1846. The first staging was in Monte Carlo in 1893. Berlioz considered, for a time, commissioning a new libretto for an opera under the title Méphistophélès but the idea came to nothing.
It was in February 1846 that Berlioz introduced the public in Pesth to a new composition that had an immediate appeal to Hungarian patriotism, then reaching a new pitch of enthusiasm. He had been advised to write something based on a Hungarian national melody and had happily chosen Rákóczy, with its overt nationalist associations, to create the Rákóczy March. This was to form part of the work on which he was now working at every available moment during his concert tour of Germany and Austria and in the months that followed Faust is first found in Hungary, allowing the march a new place. In the second part, rejuvenated by the Devil Mephistopheles, now his companion until his final damnation, from which there is to be no redemption, Mephistopheles entertains the students in Auerbach's cellar in Leipzig with Une puce gentille (‘A delightful flea’), a song taken unchanged from the Eight Scenes, The Devil's Sérénade, from the third part, provides an interlude in Faust's courtship of Marguerite.
Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le diable (‘Robert the Devil’) deals with another kind of devilry. Staged first at the Paris Opéra in 1831, this grand opéra is based on a Norman legend. The Norman Duke of the title is tempted to evil by his friend Bertram, who, in the third act, set in a dark, misty countryside, calls on nuns from their deserted cloister to rise from their graves and to help him in his task of luring Robert, through promise of pleasures, to seize the magic branch, an act of sacrilege that will re-unite him with his beloved Isabelle. The opera ends with Bertram, seducer of Robert's mother and hence his father, swallowed by the earth, as Robert finds Isabelle once more.
The legend of Faust found another treatment in the work of the poet Nikolaus Lenan, published in 1836 and revised four years later, a poem in which Faust finally denounces Mephistopheles, before killing himself. The great pianist and composer Franz Liszt drew inspiration from Lenau for two episodes from the poem, the second of which is generally known as the First Mephisto Waltz, >a dance in the village inn, where Mephistopheles plays his fiddle and leads the couples into the forest for their pleasure.
Arrigo Boito enjoys a reputation as a librettist, the author of the texts for Verdi's later operas Simon Boccanegra, Otello and Falstaff. As a composer he won a final reputation for his opera Mefislojele, based on Goethe's Faust, a work first staged and ill-received in 1868, but revised and staged again, with a more proficient cast, in 1875 and again, with further revision, in 1876. In a Prologue in heaven, Mephistopheles wagers in Ave Signor that he can win the soul of Faust, a challenge accepted by the Almighty. In Faust's study, as the old scholar reads, he is interrupted by a stranger, Mephistopheles, who announces himself in Son lo spirto che nega sempre tutto (‘I am the spirit who denies everything always’). Faust, transformed, is with Mephistopheles on a peak in the Harz mountains, where witches celebrate their Sabbath. Mephistopheles takes a glass globe and in Ecco il mondo (‘Here is the world’) tells him of the emptiness of the world and its worthlessness, before throwing the globe down and conjuring up a vision of Margherita, wearing a blood-coloured neck-lace, while the dance of the witches grows in fury.
E.T.A. Hoffmann, known as Gespenster Hoffmann (Ghost Hoffmann), was a man of wide and varied talents, deployed in part in music and then, during the later part of his relatively short life, largely in writing Jacques Offenbach used an earlier play derived from some of Hoffmann's stories for his opera Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann). In the play and the opera, the latter first staged in Paris in 1881, Hoffmann himself is portrayed as a lover, infatuated first with the mechanical doll Olympia, the creation of old Dr Coppélius, then with a fated singer, Antonia, and finally with the faithless Giulietta in Venice. At the heart of each succeeding disaster for the fictional Hoffmann is the bass as Dr Coppélius, the spurious Dr Miracle, who causes Antonia's death, and the magician Dapertutto. It is this last who seeks the reflection of Hoffmann, as he already has the reflection and hence the very soul of Giulietta's other lover, enticing her with the promise of diamonds in Scintille, diamant! (Sparkle, diamond!). The famous Barcarolle, often heard in instrumental isolation from its context, sets the scene in Venice.
Charles Gounod's opera Faust, first staged in 1859 at the Paris Theatre Lyrique, remains the most popular metamorphosis of Goethe 's poetic drama, based again on the French translation by Gerard de Nerval of the first part of that work. In the first act of the opera Mephistopheles has transformed the old scholar Faust into a young nobleman and in the second they join a company of young men, drinking with them Mephistopheles entertains the company with his blasphemous song Le veau d'or (The golden calf), before revealing his diabolical power, when a quarrel breaks out. Seduced by Faust, Marguerite gives birth to Faust's child, is shunned by her neighbours and apparently deserted by her lover. Her brother Valentin returns from the war and angrily bursts into the house, while outside Mephistopheles offers his own satirical Serenade, a parody of Faust's own wooing in the previous act.
It was with the commission from the Russian impresario Sergey Dyagilev for music for the new ballet The Firebird that Stravinsky had his first significant chance to make a name for himself. The score, later revised, includes a vicious Danse infernale for the evil Kashchey. Stravinsky returned to the Devil in his Soldier's Tale, but it was particularly in his neo-classical opera The Rake's Progress, first staged in Venice in 1951, that the Devil came into his own in the person of Nick Shadow, the tempter who lures the ingenuous Tom Rakewell to his final doom in Bedlam. The libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman is based on the moral series of paintings of the same title by William Hogarth. Tom is persuaded to seek his fortune in London, deserting his beloved Anne Trulove. Now tired of the pleasures in which he has indulged, he is persuaded by his servant and companion Nick Shadow, in a recitative and aria, to show his independence from social convention by marrying the bearded lady, Baba the Turk, a proposal that appeals to the young man. Nick Shadow has asked for no wages until a year and a day shall have passed. In a churchyard at midnight Shadow reveals to Tom his true identity, claiming his soul. All is now to rest on Tom guessing three cards, as Shadow cuts the pack. When Tom guesses correctly three times, Shadow is defeated and sinks into the grave made ready for his victim, finally condemning Tom to madness.
Munich Radio Orchestra
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