Major Operas | Faust by Charles Gounod | High Romantic
Premiered: 1859, Paris
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré
Faust’s search for knowledge has been futile and he calls on the devil. Méphistophélès offers wealth, fame or power, but all Faust wants is youth. He is shown a vision of Marguerite and signs his soul away, being transformed into a young man.
The townspeople mill around at the Kermesse. Valentin is leaving for war and asks Siébel to look after his sister, Marguerite. He then calls on heaven to protect her. Méphistophélès offers a drinking song and then tells fortunes, including that Valentin will die in a duel and that any flowers Siébel touches will wither. Valentin takes Méphistophélès’ toast to Marguerite as an insult, but his sword shatters. Méphistophélès is driven back with the sign of the cross. Faust appears, asking for the girl from his vision. Marguerite enters, but declines his arm and leaves.
Siébel’s flowers for Marguerite have withered. He dips his fingers in holy water and the spell is broken. Faust is moved by the innocence of Marguerite’s house. Méphistophélès returns with a casket of jewels. Marguerite is still thinking about the stranger in the marketplace when she discovers the jewels and tries them on. Faust then begins to woo her, while Méphistophélès flirts with her neighbour Marthe. Marguerite succumbs, but at the first kiss she runs into the house. From her window she confesses that she loves Faust, and he follows her inside.
Faust has deserted Marguerite, now pregnant. Siébel attempts to raise her spirits. The soldiers have returned. Siébel fails to stop Valentin going into his house. Méphistophélès sings a mock serenade beneath the window. Valentin demands satisfaction from the seducer and is mortally wounded, thanks to Méphistophélès’ intervention. As he dies he curses Marguerite. Méphistophélès comes to Marguerite in church as she prays and tells her she is damned.
Méphistophélès and Faust attend the witches’ Sabbath. Faust is distracted by history’s most beautiful women, but demands to be taken to Marguerite. She is now in prison for infanticide and has gone insane. When she sees Faust she recalls their past meetings. At the sight of Méphistophélès, however, she calls for divine protection and rejects Faust. As she dies Méphistophélès claims her soul, but celestial voices announce that she is saved.
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