FAUST Opéra en 5 actes Composer: Charles Gounod (1818–1893) Libretto : Jules Barbier & Michael Carré, after Goethe’s Faust, part 1 (1808) First performed : Théâtre Lyrique (boulevard du Temple), Paris, 19 March 1859
SETTING: Germany, 16th century
PLOT: The philosopher Faust sells his soul to Méphistophèles in exchange for youth. Faust seduces and then abandons Marguerite, who gives birth to an illegitimate child. He then murders her brother, the soldier Valentin, who curses Marguerite with his dying breath. Marguerite goes mad and kills her child; Faust and Méphistophèles go to the prison to rescue her, but she rejects them. She dies and her soul rises up to heaven. ‘Faust’ was one of the most successful operas of the nineteenth century. Like Berlioz ('La damnation de Faust', 1846: youtube.com/watch?v=0-x-9WzLS7Q&list=PLoB7Fd8EvhHagG5GFHsyUz60HRHvdsPla) before him, Gounod read Faust as a young man, as a 20-year-old Prix de Rome student, and dreamt of composing music for it. (Goethe himself had wanted Mozart or Meyerbeer to set it to music.)
It was surprisingly unsuccessful when it was first performed; it was found too learned and not tuneful enough. The problem was that Gounod’s music was in a different style from French grand opéra to which audiences were used; it was an early opéra lyrique. Berlioz, however, admired the work, going so far as to use the word ‘masterpiece’. Reyer considered it ‘among the most beautiful works of the time; a work in which inspiration and beauties of the first order erase very light imperfections’.
The audience did not embrace ‘Faust’ until the revised version of 1862. From that time, Gounod was seen as France’s leading opera composer. Its 500th Parisian performance took place in 1887, its 1,500th in 1912 and its 2,000th in 1934.
No. 4 – Scène, Récitatif & Strophes: ‘O sainte médaille… Avant de quitter ces lieux…’ The soldier Valentin is about to set out for the wars, and has been given a medallion by his sister Marguerite; he is worried about leaving his sister alone and unprotected.
Valentin (baritone): Ernest Blanc Wagner (baritone): Victor Autran Siébel (mezzo-soprano, personage masculin): Liliane Berton
Conductor : André Cluytens Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra Paris, 1958
Watch videos with other singers performing Avant de quitter ces lieux:
VALENTIN Avant de quitter ces lieux, Sol natal de mes aïeux A toi, seigneur et Roi des cieux Ma sœur je confie, Daigne de tout danger Toujours, toujours la protéger Cette sœur si cherie! Délivré d'une triste pensée J'irai chercher la gloire, la gloire au seins des ennemis, Le premier, le plus brave au fort de la mêlée, J'irai combattre pour mon pays. Et si vers lui, Dieu me rappelle, Je veillerai sur toi fidèle, O Marguerite!
Avant de quitter ces lieux, Sol natal de mes aïeux, A toi, seigneur et Roi des cieux, Ma sœur je confie! O Roi des cieux, jette les yeux, Protège Marguerite, Roi des cieux!
English Libretto or Translation:
VALENTIN Before I leave this town, My forefathers' native place, To you, Lord and King of Heaven, Do I entrust my sister. I beg you to defend her From every peril, My beloved sister. Freed from this harrowing thought, I shall seek glory in the enemy's ranks, The first, the bravest, in the thick of the fray, I shall go and fight for my country. And if God should call me to his side, I shall faithfully watch over you, O Marguerite. Before I leave, etc. O King of Heaven, hear my prayer And defend Marguerite, O King of Heaven.