First performance: 19 March 1859 at ThÈatre-Lyrique, Paris
The philosopher Faust is profoundly depressed by his inaptitude to reach fulfillment through knowledge and thinks of committing suicide. He pours the contents of a poison phial in a cup, but stops suddenly drinking the deadly liquid when he hears a pastoral choir. He damns happiness, science and faith and calls on Satan to guide him. MÈphistophÈlËs appears (duet: ” Me voici “). Faust confesses to him that he looks for youth, more than wealth, glory and power. MÈphistophÈlËs agrees to fulfill the wishes of the philosopher, in exchange for his services in the infernal regions. As Faust hesitates to accept this condition, MÈphistophÈlËs has Marguerite appear to him sitting at her spinning wheel. Faust signs then the document and is transformed into a noble young person.
The carnival at the city gates. One sees a cabaret on the left.
The curtain rises on a joyful choir of students, soldiers, bourgeois, girls and stout women (choir: ” Vin ou BiËre “). Valentin enters, holdin in his hand a medal which his sister Marguerite gave to him; he is about to leave for war, and is giving instructions to his friends, notably to Wagner and SiÈbel, so that they take care of her. They sit down to take a last glass. MÈphistophÈlËs appears suddenly, and amuses them with a song on the golden veal (round dance: ” Le veau d’or “). Valentin gets angry when MÈphistophÈlËs talks lightly about his sister, but his sword breaks in the air before reaching its target. Confronted with a supernatural power, Valentin and his companions brandish crossshaped knobs of their swords in front of the devil (choir: ” De l’enfer “). MÈphistophÈlËs remains alone, soon joined by Faust and by a group of village waltzers (waltz and choir: ” Ainsi que la brise lÈgËre “). When Marguerite appears among them, Faust offers her his arm; she refuses with modesty and goes away deftly.
SiÈbel is in love with Marguerite and sets down a bouquet for her (stanzae: ” Faites-lui mes aveux “). Faust and MÈphistophÈlËs enter the garden; while the devil is in charge of finding a present for Marguerite, Faust shouts out to Marguerite’s house and to the defending embrace of nature (cavatina: ” Salut, demeure chaste et pure “). MÈphistophÈlËs returns and sets down a casket with jewels for the girl. Marguerite arrives, wondering who was the young gentleman who approached her earlier. She sings a ballad on the king of ThulÈ, discovers the bouquet and the casket of jewels and, quite incited, tries earrings and necklace (scene and air: ” Il Ètait un roi de ThulÈ “). Marthe, Marguerite’s governess, tells her that these jewels have to be the present of an admirer. MÈphistophÈlËs and Faust join the two women; the first tries to seduce Marthe, while Faust converses with Marguerite, who shows herself still very reserved (quartet: ” Prenez mon bras “). While Faust and Marguerite disappear for a moment, MÈphistophÈlËs casts a fate to the flowers of the garden. Marguerite and Faust return and she allows Faust to kiss her (duet: ” Laisse-moi, laisse-moi, contempler ton visage”); however, she steps back suddenly and asks him to go away. Convinced of the insignificance of his efforts, Faust is resolved to abandon his project altogether. He is stopped by MÈphistophÈlËs, who orders him to listen to Marguerite at her window. When hearing that she hopes for his quick return, Faust shows himself and takes her hand; as she drops her head on Faust’s shoulder, MÈphistophÈlËs cannot refrain from laughing.
Marguerite has given birth to Faust’s child and is ostracised by girls in the street. Saddened because Faust abandoned her, she sits down at her spinning wheel (air: ” Il ne revient pas “). SiÈbel, always faithful, try to encourage her. A square. The return of Valentin is announced with soldiers’ walking, and it becomes clear that things are going to deteriorate. Having heard SiÈbel’s evasive answers to the questions he asked about his sister, Valentin rushes furiously in the house. While he is inside, MÈphistophÈlËs satirically plays the role of lover, giving a serenade under Marguerite’s window (serenade: ” Vous qui Ítes l’endormie”). Valentin reappears and demands who took his sister’s innocence. Faust pulls his sword; during the ensuing duel, Valentin is lethally wounded. As he dies, he throws back all responsibility on Marguerite and damns her for the eternity. A cathedral. Marguerite tries to pray, but is prevented from it by,first, the voice of MÈphistophÈlËs, then by a devils’ choir. She finally succeeds in finishing her prayer, but faints when MÈphistophÈlËs releases a last curse.
The mountains of the Harz. The night of Walpurgis.
One hears a choir of will o’ the wisps when MÈphistophÈlËs and Faust appear. They are quickly surrounded by witches (choir: “Un, deux et trois”). Faust tries to run away, but MÈphistophÈlËs hurries to take him somewhere else. A decorated, populated cave of queens and courtesans of the Antiquity. In the middle of luxurious banquet, Faust sees Marguerite’s image and demands for her. While MÈphistophÈlËs and Faust leave, the mountain closes and the witches return. The inside of a prison. Marguerite is imprisoned for killing her child, but, thanks to MÈphistophÈlËs’s help, Faust obtains the keys of her cell. Marguerite wakes to the sound of Faust’s voice; they sing a duet of love (duet: “Oui, c’est toi que j’aime”) and Faust asks her to run away with him. MÈphistophÈlËs appears and begs Faust and Marguerite to follow him. Marguerite resists and calls for divine protection. Desperate, Faust watches and falls to his knees in prayer, while Marguerite’s soul rises towards heaven (highlight: “Christ est ressuscitÈ”).
Synopsis courtesy of Charles Gounod — His life, his works.
Click here for the complete libretto.
image_description=Charles Gounod by Henri Lehmann, 1841
first_audio_name=Charles Gounod: Faust
product_title=Charles Gounod: Faust
product_by=Nicolai Gedda, Heather Harper, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Robert Massard, Africa De Retes, Luisa Bartoletti, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Colon, Gianandrea Favazzeni. Live performance 8 May 1971, Buenos Aires.