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.
Chœur des épées : ‘De l’enfer qui vient émousser nos armes’ Méphistophèles has cast a spell that broke Valentin and his soldiers’ swords. They make the sign of the cross with the pieces to ward off the devil.
SIEBEL, VALENTIN, WAGNER, CHŒUR De l'enfer qui vient émousser Nos armes Nous ne pouvons pas repousser Les charmes!
Tous prennent leurs épées par la lame et le present sous forme de croix à Méphistophélès.
VALENTIN Mais puisque tu brises le fer, Regarde! ... C'est une croix qui, de l'enfer, Nous garde!
MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS remettant son épée au fourneau Nous nous retrouverons, mes amis! - Serviteur!
FAUST entrant Qu'as-tu donc?
MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS Rien! - A nous deux, cher Docteur, Qu'attendez-vous de moi? Par où commencerai-je?
FAUST Où se cache la belle enfant Que ton art m'a fait voir? - Est-ce un vain sortilège?
MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS Non pas, mais contre nous sa vertu la protège; Et le ciel même la dèfend.
FAUST Qu'importe? Je le veux! Viens! Conduit-moi vers elle! Ou je me sépare de toi.
MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS Il suffit! ... je tiens trop à mon nouvel emploi Pour vous laisser douter un instant de mon zèle! Attendons! ... Ici même, à ce signal joyeux, La belle et chaste enfant va paraître à vos yeux!
English Libretto or Translation:
ALL We cannot repulse the spells Of hell, come to blunt our weapons!
VALENTIN But since you can break swords ...
ALL But since you can break swords ...
VALENTIN taking his broken sword by the blade and showing it crosswise to Mephistopheles It is a cross which protects us from hell!
ALL It is a cross which protects us from hell!
As he sees the cross Mephistopheles draws back. The crowd leaves the stage.
MEPHISTOPHELES sheathing his sword We shall meet again, friends! Your servant!
FAUST entering What is wrong with you?
MEPHISTOPHELES Nothing' Now, to the point, dear doctor, What do you expect me to do? What shall I begin with?
FAUST Where is the fair girl hiding Whom your arts showed me? Was it mere witchcraft?
MEPHISTOPHELES Not at all! But her virtue defends her from us And Heaven itself protects her!
FAUST No matter! I want to see her! Come! Lead me to her side Or I shall part company with you!
MEPHISTOPHELES Enough said! I am too keen on my new office To let you doubt my zeal for a moment! Let's wait! In this very spot, at this merry call, The fair and chaste maid will come before you.