GOUNOD: Faust — 1953

Music composed by Charles Gounod. Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel
CarrÈ after Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

First performance: 19 March 1859 at ThÈatre-Lyrique,

Principal characters:
Marguerite Soprano
Faust Tenor
MÈphistophÈlËs Bass
Valentin Baritone
Wagner Baritone
SiÈbel Soprano
Marthe Soprano


Act I

Faust’s cabinet.

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.

Act II

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.


Marguerite’s garden.

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.

Act IV

Marguerite’s room.

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.

Act V

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 source: Charles Gounod — His
life, his works

here for the complete libretto.

image_description=A scene from Faust
first_audio_name=Charles Gounod: Faust
product_title=Charles Gounod: Faust
product_by=Faust: Nicolai Gedda; Marguerite: Victoria de los Angeles; Marthe: Solange Michel; MÈphistophÈlËs: Boris Christoff; SiÈbel: Martha Angelici; Valentin: Jean Borthayre; Wagner: Robert Jeantet. Orchestre du ThÈ‚tre National de l’OpÈra de Paris Choeurs du ThÈ‚tre National de l’OpÈra de Paris. AndrÈ Cluytens, conducting. Studio recording, 1953.