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Faust (Charles Gounod)
  • Charles Gounod. Opéra in five acts. 1858. Various changes and additions until 1869.
  • Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, after a play, Faust et Marguerite by the latter and Gérard Nerval's translation of Part I of Goethe's Faust.
  • First performance at the Théâtre Lyrique, Paris, on 19th March 1859.
Le docteur Faust, a philosopher tenor
Méphistophélès bass
Marguerite soprano
Valentin, her brother, a soldier baritone
Wagner, his friend baritone
Siébel, in love with Marguerite mezzo-soprano
Marthe, Marguerite's neighbour mezzo-soprano

The old philosopher Faust, in his study, is tired of life, but hearing the cheerful sounds of life outside, now calls on the Devil to help him. Mephistopheles appears and grants him wealth and power and, at his request, youth, in return for his soul. Faust is transformed. At a fairground, outside a tavern, there is a lively crowd of people, joined by Valentine and Siebel. Wagner sings his Song of the Rat , interrupted by Mephistopheles, with his praise of the golden calf and toast to Marguerite. Valentine draws his sword, which is broken through the magic of Mephistopheles. Faust escorts Marguerite, as she leaves the church, Siebel kept at bay by Mephistopheles. In Marguerite's garden Siebel picks her a bouquet of flowers, but they wither at his touch, until he dips his fingers into holy water, breaking the spell. Faust greets the house and lays a casket of jewels on the step, in place of Siebel's bouquet. Marguerite, approaching, sings her song of the King of Thule, as she muses about the handsome stranger she has met. She sees and hesitatingly opens the casket, donning the jewels, which delight her. Her neighbour Marthe encourages her, and when Faust and Mephistopheles appear, she goes out with the latter, leaving Faust and Marguerite alone, as the couples wander in the garden. Parting from her, Faust hears her confession of love and rushes to her. In the fourth act Marguerite has been deserted. In church Mephistopheles reminds her of her sin, urging her despair. In front of her house Faust and Mephistopheles provoke Valentine, who is within, and Faust kills him. He dies cursing his sister. The revised fifth act contains the Walpurgis Night scene, where Faust sees the heroines of antiquity and, finally, Marguerite, with a red mark on her neck like the cut of an axe. Brought to her in prison, where she has been condemned to death for killing her child, Faust begs her to escape with him, but she turns instead to the angels, aware of the evil in Mephistopheles. Angels now carry her up to heaven and Mephistopheles, as Faust kneels in prayer, remains frustrated.

Gounod's Faust remains the most famous operatic treatment of Goethe’s play. Orchestral excerpts from the work include the ballet scene from the fifth act, the Nubian dances, Cleopatra variations, Trojans’ dance, Mirror variations and dance of Phryne. The second act includes Valentine's O sainte médaille (O holy medal), as he looks at the holy medal Marguerite has given him as protection in battle. The same scene brings Le veaux d'or (The golden calf) of Mephistopheles, in praise of worldly things and ends with the Faust waltz Ainsi que la brise légère (As the gentle breeze). In the next act, after Siebel's Faites-lui mes aveux (Take to her my vows), comes Faust’s ecstatic song to the house of his beloved Marguerite, Salut! demeure chaste et pur (Hail! Dwelling chaste and pure) and Marguerite's innocent ballad Il était un roi de Thulé (There was a King of Thule). This is in marked contrast to her delighted Jewel Song, Ah! je ris de me voir si belle (Ah! I laugh to see myself so fair). In her garden she plucks the petals of a flower to see if Faust loves her, and later, in a night of love, admits Il m'aime (He loves me). The desolate and ominous opening of the fourth act is followed by the sound of returning soldiers and the well known Soldiers' Chorus Gloire immortelle (Immortal glory), leading to the duel scene and the death of Valentine.


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