Gounod’s Masterpiece, “Faust”

Music of Yesterday

Famous Singers in “Faust”

The cast of Faust is allotted to the singers as follows:

  • Faust – Tenor
  • Mephistopheles – Basso
  • Valentine – Baritone
  • Siebel – Soprano
  • Marguerite – Soprano
  • Martha – Alto

The early singers who took part in Faust have been to a large extent forgotten. Their names are still preserved, but they were evidently incapable of accomplishing those remarkable feats of vocalism which seem to be necessary in order to insure the fame of the singer. Mme. Miolan-Carvalho is now little more than a memory, although her Marguerite was famous in its day. Amongthe most celevrated Marguerites may be named Clara Louis Kellogg, who was immensely successful as Marguerite. Christine Nilsson is alos said to have added much to the leading role in the way of original ideas pertaining to the interpretation. Emma Eames, Nellie Melba and, late, Geraldine Farrar have been extremely successful in the part of Marguerite. Possibly the most famous Mephistopheles portrayers have been Eduard de Reszke, Pol Plancon and del Puente. The famous Fausts have been Campanini, Jean de Reszke and Caruso. The similarity in the subject between Faust and the work of Berlioz (Mefistofele) has led to much misunderstanding regarding the roles portrayed by certain singers.

Gounod took the greatest possible interest in the singers who took part in his operas. When he heard that a certain soprano or a certain bass were preparing to take part in Faust he frequently summoned them to Paris and spent many hours in training them in the manner most satisfactory to himself.

The Story of “Faust”

SCENE: A German city in the 16th century.

ACT I: The aged philosopher

Dr. Faust, is in his study, when, at the moment he is about to end his life with poison because he has failed to solve the secrets of existence, he hears the Easter carols, and resolved to live. Mephistopheles (Satan) appears and shows him the vision of a beautiful young girl, Marguerite. Faust falls in love with her image, and sells his soul to Satan in exchange for youth.

ACT II: In The Market Place.

Marguetire’s brother, Valentine, leaves for the wars, placing his sister under the protection of his friend Siebel. Satan appears, urging Faust to win Marguerite. Valentine attempts to fight Satan, but is restrained by the latter’s supernatural powers. Marguerite rejects Faust’s invitation to the dance.

ACT III: Marguerite’s Garden.

Sievel offers marguerite a bouquet. The flowers fade through the magic of Satan, but are restored to their freshness by Holy water. Satan, through Faust, tempts marguerite with a casket of jewels. She discards Siebel’s simple bouquet. At first she refuses Faust, but finally loses her heart to him.

ACT IV: A Street Scene.

Valentine returns from the war, and accuses his sister of loving Faust. Faust and Satan come to serenade marguerite. Valentine fights a duel with Faust, who, through the intervention of Satan, mortally wounds him. He dies denouncing Marguerite. The scene changes to a church, where Marguerite’s conscience is awakened by Satan. Abandoned by her friends, she swoons.

ACT V

The scene is at first a wild orgy of imps and devils in a wilderness. Faust sees a vision of Marguerite, and commands Satan to take him to her. The scene changes to the prison where the unfortunate Marguerite is incarerated. She prays for the justice of God, and ascends to Heaven. Satan claims the soul of Faust.

Faust is considered one of the most beautiful of operatic allegories and has been one of the most popular of all operas.

How “Faust” Was Written

“Dr.” Johann Faust (smetimes written “Foust” or “Faustus”) was a magician, adventurer, astologer, alchemist and all around charlatan who, according to trustworthy accounts, actually lived in the sixteenth century. The legends regarding his miracles were naturally exaggerated by the credulous. In 1587 Johann Spied wrote a work upon Dr. Faust, which contained the story of how he sold himself to the Devil. The book was an immense success, and was translated into French, Flemish and English. Later, Christoper Marlowe used the legend for a play. A still later version introduces the idea of the leading female character, marguerite (in the German version, Gretchen). Finally, Goethe made it the subject of his most noted drama. The libretto of the musical version was written by Barbier and Carre, and is a weak copy of the Goethe tragedy. The opera was first produced at the Paris Grand Opera in 1859. A musical setting of the Faust idea had been made by Spohr in 1813. Other settings by Lindpainter and Prince Radziwill were unable to stand competition with the Gounod opera. Up to the time of the production of Faust Gounod’s dramatic works had failed to succeed.

The famous Faust musical numbers are:

  • Flower Song – siebel
  • Dio Posente – Valentine
  • Calf of Gold – Mephistopheles
  • Jewel Song – Marguerite
  • Salve! dimora casta e pura – Faust

The whole score of Faust is fulled with singularly rich and beautiful melodies. Gounod’s operas written after the production of Faust failed to bringhim much greater fame than that attending the first presentation of his masterpiece.