Faust, Opera by C. Gounod
The premiere of Faust by Charles Gounod at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris on 19 March 1859 was a remarkable success for many reasons. First of all, it rested upon the literary masterpiece of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the renowned German poet. While the original text is widely regarded as a pinnacle of philosophical thought, Gounod directed his efforts at revealing the straightforward, powerful love drama between the young Marguerite and the world-weary Faust. The result is a grand opera of epic proportions that enjoys regular revivals, and guests of Venice’s Gran Teatro La Fenice are sure to see why.
While inspired by Goethe, Gounod’s Faust is in fact most closely related to the French play Faust et Marguerite by Michel Carré, who worked together with Jules Barbier to create the libretto. Soon after the successful debut, the opera took to major international stages, but not before Gounod introduced a few changes to it. By the late 1860s, the original spoken-word dialogue had made way for recitativos, and Act V had gotten a ballet sequence. Faust, now in classic ‘grand opera’ generic format, was ready for its long reign across the globe’s operatic stages.
Everything begins with the fateful, unholy alliance between the ageing philosopher Faust and the spirit from hell Méphistophélès. The demon provides the youth, power and influence the man desires for his earthly existence and in exchange takes ownership of his immortal soul. With cunning assistance from Méphistophélès, Faust captures the heart of Marguerite and takes advantage of her innocence in an appalling diabolical fashion. Her brother Valentin and her secret admirer Siébel are helpless to protect her, and Méphistophélès’ cruel deception even turns brother and sister against one another. While Marguerite’s life is falling apart, Faust is swept by a deluge of debauchery and lowly pleasures – until the day of reckoning arrives. The music of Gounod could not be a better match to the gripping and dramatic story of Faust.