Opera Scotland

Damnation of Faust The Damnation of Faust; La damnation de Faust

Music

Hector Berlioz (born La Côte St André, Isère; died Paris, 8 March 1869).

Text

Almire Gandonnière & the composer.

Source

Drama Faust Part 1 (1806) by Goethe, as translated by Gérard de Nerval.

 

Premieres

First Performance (concert): Paris (Opéra-Comique), 6 December 1846.

First performance (staged): Monte Carlo (Salle Garnier), 18 February 1893.

First Performance in the UK (concert): London (Drury Lane), 7 February 1848.

First Performance in UK (staged): Liverpool (Royal Court Theatre), 3 February 1894

First Performance in Scotland: tbc.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Berlioz's great Dramatic Legend, a concert cantata derived from Faust, was one of his most frequently performed works in the nineteenth century, completely outstripping his operas, which remained largely unknown. It contains several famous orchestral showpieces, including the Rákóczi March, Dance of the Sylphs and Dance of the Will-o'-the-Wisps. The best of many vocal highlights is probably Marguerite's final aria, 'D'amour, l'ardente flamme', with its hypnotic solo for cor anglais.

By the time it was staged in Monte Carlo the work was a popular display piece with choral societies all over Britain, and the various orchestral extracts were frequently played on their own. It was an obvious, if ambitious choice for the Carl Rosa company to take on. In Liverpool, Sir Charles Hallé provided some twenty of his own players to boost the band up to 60. However, the problem remained that some of the big moments, and especially the climactic Ride to the Abyss, still seemed eminently unstageable.

 

Characters

Marguerite (mezzo-soprano)

Faust (tenor)

Méphistophélès (baritone)

Brander (bass)

 

Plot Summary

The work opens with Faust enjoying a rural idyll on the Hungarian plains, with cheerful peasants and marching soldiers. Back in his study he is far less happy, and even contemplates suicide. Mephistopheles arrives, with a promise to give him anything he can desire. They leave to explore these possibilities, and their first stop is a hostelry in Leipzig. It is packed with students, and one of them, Brander, entertains his friends by singing the Song of the Rat, which Mephistopheles follows up with his Song of the Flea. Later, as Faust sleeps off his excesses by a riverbank, he has dreams of various sylph-like creatures in a ballet, conjured up by Mephistopheles. He also has a vision of Marguerite.

The next part opens in Marguerite's house, where Faust finds a hiding place as she sings to herself. After they meet, they quickly fall in love, though Mephistopheles is keen to get Faust away. Marguerite later regrets her affair and sings a wonderful lament. The work ends in the country once more, with Faust's paean to nature, followed by the excitingly tumuluous Ride to the Abyss.

The Cast

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