Faust by Charles Gounod

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Faust by Charles Gounod

The son of a famous painter, Charles Gounod (b. 17th June 1818 in Paris, d. 18th October 1893 in St. Cloud) began studying music at a very young age. His initial operas were not very successful but the opera Faust put his name on the map.

Faust is a well known production and many producers and composers have done their own works on this plot.

An ‘Opera’ in five acts, the libretto was produced by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre who based it on the drama of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It premiered on the 19th March 1859 in Paris at the Theatre Lyrique. It is set in a small German town in the 16th century.

Characters:

Faust (Tenor)

Marguerite (Soprano)

Mephistopheles (Bass)

Valentin, a solider and the brother of Marguerite (Baritone)

Siebel, a young man in love with Marguerite (Soprano)

Marthe, the neighbour of Marguerite (Mezzo-Soprano)

Wagner, a soldier (Bass)

Girls and women, citizens, students, soldiers, apparitions and angels (the chorus)

Synopsis:

Act I

Faust has grown old and doubts his life’s work. He makes a deal with the Devil, Mephistopheles – in exchange for his soul, he will gain youth, riches and good fortune in love.

Act II

Students, soldiers and citizens drink in order to escape the horrors of everyday life. The soldier Valentin prepares to go to war and leaves his beloved sister in the care of Siebel, who is in love with her. Mephistopheles amuses himself by unleashing the crowds’ worst instincts. Faust sees Marguerite and is consumed by desire for her.

Act III

Siebel presents Marguerite with a bunch of flowers but is outdone by Mephistopheles who gives valuable jewellery. He presents Faust to Marguerite, having softened her up a little, and Mephistopheles distracts her neighbour Marthe as Faust pays court to her. Faust eventually wins her trust and love.

Act IV

Marguerite, once the virtuous girl, has now become condemned by the public. She has given birth to a child by Faust who has abandoned her. Her brother returns home and learns what has happened to his sister. Marguerite tries to pray but Mephistopheles prevents her from making peace with God. Faust wishes to return to Marguerite but Mephistopheles prevents him. Mephistopheles pretends to serenade her but is in fact mocking her. Faust and Valentin fight and the brother is mortally wounded. Dying, Valentin curses Marguerite.

Act V

Mephistopheles takes Faust to the celebrations of Walpurgis Night, where spirits and the elements are released. At the very height of the festivities, the image of Marguerite appears to Faust. She has killed their child and is to be executed for infanticide. With the help of Mephistopheles, Faust tries to rescue Marguerite. In the jail, however, Marguerite refuses to leave and dies. Mephistopheles tells that her soul is damned but the angels appear assuring that Marguerite’s soul has risen to Heaven.

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