Don't make deals with the devil!
Faust, an aging scholar, has devoted his life to studying. As he reflects on his life, he feels that nothing has come of his devotion. He contemplates suicide and, as he is about to do so, he curses God and asks the devil to appear. Méphistophélès, the devil, appears and tempts Faust with an image of a lovely young woman, Marguerite, and Faust makes a deal with the devil. The deal will make Faust young again, as the devil will give Faust life on earth and, in return, Faust must spend eternity with Méphistophélès in Hell.
Faust lusts after Marguerite and eventually wins her over. His thirst for youth has left him with little care of the consequences others will face. Marguerite becomes pregnant, causing her brother, Valentin, to challenge Faust to a duel. Faust, with Méphistophélès’ help, ends up killing Valentin. Marguerite later kills her child and is imprisoned. Faust is let into the prison by Méphistophélès and the two men tell Marguerite they will get her out. Marguerite, however, tells them she would prefer her fate to be in the hands of God. Her faith eventually saves her and she ascends to heaven.
Opera in 5 acts
Sung in French
About 3 hours + intervals
Germany, 16th century
Faust, an aging scholar, determines that his studies have come to nothing and have only caused him to miss out on life and love (Rien! En vain j'interroge). He attempts to kill himself (twice) with poison but stops each time when he hears a choir. He curses hope and faith, and asks for infernal guidance. Méphistophélès appears (duet: Me voici) and, with a tempting image of Marguerite at her spinning wheel, persuades Faust to buy Méphistophélès' services on Earth in exchange for Faust's in Hell. Faust's goblet of poison is magically transformed into an elixir of youth, making the aged doctor a handsome young gentleman; the strange companions then set out into the world.
At the city gates
A chorus of students, soldiers and villagers sings a drinking song (Vin ou Bière). Valentin, leaving for war with his friend Wagner, entrusts the care of his sister Marguerite to his youthful friend Siébel (O sainte médaille ... Avant de quitter ces lieux). Méphistophélès appears, provides the crowd with wine, and sings a rousing, irreverent song about the Golden Calf (Le veau d'or). Méphistophélès maligns Marguerite, and Valentin tries to strike him with his sword, which shatters in the air. Valentin and friends use the cross-shaped hilts of their swords to fend off what they now know is an infernal power (chorus: De l'enfer). Méphistophélès is joined by Faust and the villagers in a waltz (Ainsi que la brise légère). Marguerite appears and Faust declares his admiration, but she refuses Faust's arm out of modesty, a quality that makes him love her even more.
The lovesick boy Siébel leaves a bouquet for Marguerite (Faites-lui mes aveux). Faust sends Méphistophélès in search of a gift for Marguerite and sings a cavatina (Salut, demeure chaste et pure) idealizing Marguerite as a pure child of nature. Méphistophélès brings in a decorated box containing exquisite jewelry and a hand mirror and leaves it on Marguerite's doorstep, next to Siébel's flowers. Marguerite enters, pondering her encounter with Faust at the city gates, and sings a melancholy ballad about the King of Thule (Il était un roi de Thulé). Marthe, Marguerite's neighbour, notices the jewellery and says it must be from an admirer. Marguerite tries on the jewels and is captivated by how they enhance her beauty, as she sings in the famous aria, the Jewel Song (Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir). Méphistophélès and Faust join the women in the garden and romance them. Marguerite allows Faust to kiss her (Laisse-moi, laisse-moi contempler ton visage), but then asks him to go away. She sings at her window for his quick return, and Faust, listening, returns to her. Under the watchful eye and malevolent laughter of Méphistophélès, it is clear that Faust's seduction of Marguerite will be successful.
Marguerite's room/A public square outside her house/A cathedral
[Note: The scenes of act 4 are sometimes given in a different order and portions are sometimes shortened or cut in performance.]
After being made pregnant and seemingly abandoned by Faust, Marguerite has given birth and is a social outcast. She sings an aria at her spinning wheel (Il ne revient pas). Siébel stands by her. The scene shifts to the square outside Marguerite's house. Valentin's company returns from the war to a military march (Déposons les armes and Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux, the well-known "soldiers' chorus"). Siébel asks Valentin to forgive Marguerite. Valentin rushes to her cottage. While he is inside Faust and Méphistophélès appear, and Méphistophélès, knowing that Marguerite is not in there alone, sings a mocking burlesque of a lover's serenade under Marguerite's window (Vous qui faites l'endormie). Valentin takes the bait and comes out of the cottage, now knowing that Faust has debauched his sister. The two men fight, but Faust is reluctant to hurt the brother of the woman he adores. Méphistophélès blocks Valentin's sword, allowing Faust to make the fatal thrust. With his dying breath Valentin blames Marguerite for his death and condemns her to Hell before the assembled townspeople (Ecoute-moi bien Marguerite). Marguerite goes to the church and tries to pray there but is stopped, first by the sadistic Méphistophélès and then by a choir of devils. She finishes her prayer but faints when she is cursed again by Méphistophélès.
The Harz mountains on Walpurgis Night / A cavern / The interior of a prison
Méphistophélès and Faust are surrounded by witches (Un, deux et trois). Faust is transported to a cave of queens and courtesans, and Méphistophélès promises to provide Faust with the love of the greatest and most beautiful women in history. An orgiastic ballet suggests the revelry that continues throughout the night. As dawn approaches, Faust sees a vision of Marguerite and calls for her. Méphistophélès helps Faust enter the prison where Marguerite is being held for killing her child. They sing a love duet (Oui, c'est toi que j'aime). Méphistophélès states that only a mortal hand can deliver Marguerite from her fate, and Faust offers to rescue her from the hangman, but she prefers to trust her fate to God and His angels (Anges purs, anges radieux). At the end she asks why Faust's hands are covered in blood, pushes him away, and falls down motionless. Méphistophélès curses, as a voice on high sings "Sauvée!" ("Saved!"). The bells of Easter sound and a chorus of angels sings "Christ est ressuscité!" ('"Christ is risen!"). The walls of the prison open, and Marguerite's soul rises to heaven. In despair Faust follows it with his eyes; he falls to his knees and prays. Méphistophélès is turned away by the shining sword of the archangel.
Faust – Tenor (lyric)
A philosopher and metaphysician
Méphistophélès – Bass-baritone/Bass (lyric)
A familiar spirit of Hell
Marguerite – Soprano (lyric coloratura)
A young maiden
Valentin – Baritone (lyric)
A soldier and Marguerite's brother
Wagner – Baritone
Siébel – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano/Countertenor (lyric)
A youth in love with Marguerite
Marthe Schwertlein – Mezzo-soprano/Contralto
Place of birth: The Latin Quarter, Paris, France
Place of death: Saint-Cloud, Paris, France
Charles Gounod was a French composer. He wrote twelve operas, of which the most popular has always been Faust (1859); his Roméo et Juliette (1867) also remains in the international repertory. He composed a large amount of church music, many songs, and popular short pieces including his Ave Maria (an elaboration of a Bach piece), and Funeral March of a Marionette.
“My opinion changes rapidly - one minute I can think it is very good and the next time I look at it, I see all the flaws and weaknesses therein.”
His musical gifts were largely due to the teachings of his mother, who was a pianist. While studying in Paris, he primarily studied theology, expecting to become a priest.
Most prominent operas
Barbier and Carré co-wrote the libretto for Faust. The libretto was adapted from Carré's play Faust et Marguerite, loosely based on Goethe's Faust, Part I. It was revised in 1869.
Jules Barbier was a French librettist, poet and writer. He wrote the libretto for Les contes d'Hoffmann by Offenbach. He also co-wrote librettos together with Michel Carré. Their most prominent works include Gounod's Faust and Roméo et Juliette, and Thomas' Hamlet and Mignon.
2d1, 2d1, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, 2 harps, strings
Banda including organ
Faust premiered at Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in 1859 and is to date Gounod's most popular opera.
Today it is one of the top 30 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria - Avant de quitter ces lieux (Valentin)
Aria – Le veau d'or est toujours debout (Méphistophélès)
Aria - Faites lui mes aveux (Siébel)
Aria – Salut! Demeure chaste et pure (Faust)
Aria – Ah! je ris de me voir si belle (Marguerite)