Opera Scotland

Faust

Music
Charles Gounod (born Paris, 17 June 1818; died Saint-Cloud, 18 October 1893)

Text
Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.

Source
Episodes from poem (1808) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), adapted by Barbier.

Premières
First performance: Paris (Théâtre-Lyrique), 19 March 1859.
First UK performance: London (Her Majesty’s Theatre), 24 June 1863.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal) 9 October 1865
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 14 May 1964.

Background
For many decades after its first appearance, Faust enjoyed almost unequalled popularity in the operatic world. The statistics are amazing – 1000 performances in Paris by 1894, and performed in every Covent Garden season between 1863 and 1911. It is nowadays difficult to appreciate how this was possible. While it is unlikely that it will ever regain that level of exposure, it does now seem acceptable to admire an opera that a few decades ago was widely regarded with little more than contempt. German audiences are reputed to have generally viewed it as trivialising a literary masterpiece, but taken on its own terms, there is much to admire, particularly in the delicate social comedy, when Gounod is not trying to create a grand opera.

Characters
Faust, an academic (tenor)
Méphistophélès (bass)
Valentin, a soldier, Marguerite’s brother (baritone)
Wagner, a student (baritone)
Marguerite (soprano)
Siébel, a youth, in love with Marguerite (mezzo-soprano)
Marthe, Marguerite’s neighbour (contralto)

Plot Summary
The opera is set in sixteenth century Germany. Faust, a philosopher, is feeling his age, envious of the young men he constantly sees around, and infatuated with the beautiful Marguerite. Méphistophélès takes advantage to offer him renewed, and eternal, youth – in exchange for his soul. Faust accepts the bargain. Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, is going to war, and leaves his sister in the care of Siébel, who loves her. The newly youthful Faust succeeds in seducing Marguerite and making her pregnant, assisted by a tempting case of jewels supplied by Méphistophélès. By the time Valentin and the other soldiers return from the wars, Marguerite has killed her baby and is in prison, awaiting execution. Valentin denounces Faust and challenges him to a duel, but, with the help of Méphistophélès, Faust is able to kill him. In prison, Marguerite is tempted by Méphistophélès to join Faust. She resists, and a heavenly choir pronounces her salvation as Faust, in fulfilment of his bargain, is dragged off to Hell.

The Cast

Faust
 a learned doctor
Marguerite
 
Marthe
 a neighbour
Méphistophélès
 the devil
Siébel
 a student of Dr Faust, in love with Marguerite
Valentin
 Marguerite's brother
Wagner
 a student of Dr Faust

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