Summary Charles Gounod. Faust


Opera in five acts1

Libretto by J. Barbier and M. Carré


Doctor Faust






Marta, a neighbor of Margarita





Mezzo soprano


Mezzo soprano

Students, soldiers, townspeople, girls, women, spirits, etc.

The action takes place in Germany in the Middle Ages.


Opera on the plot of Goethe’s “Faust” was conceived by Gounod in 1839, but he did not realize his plan until seventeen years later. The librettists J. Barbier (1825-1901) and M. Carre (1819-1872) enthusiastically set to work. In the midst of composing music, it became known that on the stage of one of the

Parisian theaters appeared the melodrama “Faust”. Director of the Lyric Theater, to whom Gounod offered his opera, fearing competition, refused to stage it. Instead, the composer was commissioned a new opera on the plot of Moliere’s “The Willy-nilly Doctor” (1858). Nevertheless, Gounod did not stop work on his opera. The premiere of “Faust” was held in Paris on March 19, 1859. The first performances were not successful, but gradually the popularity of the opera grew: by the end of the 1859 season, it had withstood 57 performances. Initially, “Faust” was written with conversational dialogues. In 1869, for the production of the Bolshoi Opera in Paris, Gounod replaced the dialogues with a melodic recitative and completed the ballet scene “Walpurgis Night”. In this edition, the opera took a solid place in the world theater repertoire.

The plot of the opera was borrowed from the first part of the same tragedy of Goethe (1773-1808), the basis of which was the medieval legend widespread in Germany. However, unlike Goethe, this plot is interpreted in the

opera in a lyrical everyday, rather than philosophically. Faust Gouno is dominated not so much by reflections on life, inquisitive search for truth, as the fervor of love feelings. The image of Mephistopheles is greatly simplified: Goethe’s complete sense of deep meaning, he appeared in the opera in a mockingly ironic plan. The closest to the literary prototype is Margarita, whose outlines emphasize human, intimate features.


“Faust” – one of the highest achievements of the French opera of the XIX century. The music of the opera is melodic, true in the depiction of characters and situations. The composer skillfully used the richness of the opera forms, creating a dramatically rich, diverse in scenic respect action.

In orchestral introductions of a gloomy, full of deep meditation music is opposed by a light, lyrically tender melody of clarinets and flute.

The beginning of the first act conveys the excruciating thoughts of Faust; his arioso “In my heart with deep sorrow” sounds an elegiac complaint. Infused with the determination of Arioso Faust “Hello, the last day, to you.” A sharp contrast forms a light choir of citizens. When Mephistopheles appears in music, sly insinuating and mocking self-confidence are heard. Arioso Faust “Come back to me, happy youth” is imbued with a thirst for happiness and love. Gently-transparent melody in the orchestra recreates the pure, virgin-beautiful image of Margarita.

The large choral scene of the second act is full of juicy folk humor. Cavatina Valentina “God is all-powerful, the god of love!” has the character of a solemn anthem. The Mephistopheles’ commemorative coins “On earth, the entire human race” create an image of the elemental, elusive, brutal force that reigns over people. The act concludes a magnificent folk scene, against which the first meeting between Faust and Margarita takes place; The whole scene is permeated with charming melodies and waltz rhythms.

The orchestral introduction of the third act anticipates the fateful outcome of the drama with its alert, anxious mood. The soft, calmly-lyric romance of Siebel “Tell you to her” is sustained in the waltz movement. Feast of Cavatina Faust “Greetings to you, innocent shelter” is filled with awe. Simply and artlessly sounds the melody of Margarita’s ballad “In Fulya lived and was a king.” The ballad is replaced by the bravura aria-waltz “Ah, it’s funny, it’s ridiculous to look at myself!” In the quartet, the comic dialogue between Mephistopheles and Martha is contrasted with the tender confessions of Faus and Margarita. The duet of Faust and Margarita ends with an enthusiastic, ardent melody.

The fourth act is marked by a profound drama. Against the background of the chords of the organ and the sorrowful singing of the prayers, Margarita’s ecstatic exclamations sound; they are answered by inexorably-ruthless remarks of Mephistopheles and infernal spirits. The next scene opens with a solemn military march with the chorus of the soldiers of “Homeland glory not to be disgraced.” The ironic character is the serenade of Mephistopheles. “Come out, O my dear friend!” In tercet contrast mocking remarks of Mephistopheles, excited exclamations of Faust and angry exclamations of Valentine. In the mournful arioso of Valentine “What is destined to” music reaches a high drama.

The orchestral introduction of the fifth act consists of two episodes: the first one conveys the anguish of Margarita, in the second rhythms of a furious jump sound. A small arioso of Faust “Oh, the sky, here it is,” imbued with heartache and compassion, is set off by the serenity of happiness at the beginning of the duet of Margarita and Faust “You are again with me.” An enthusiastic, bright feeling is fulfilled by Marguerite’s ariozo “Oh, you are hot I pray” and the subsequent tercet. Quietly and solemnly the final chorus “All shall trust” sounds.

Music of the second picture of the fifth act (“Walpurgis Night”) is based on sharp contrasts. The first chorus “If the branched is more often gloomy” evokes a sense of mystery. Rest and joy flow from the music of the choir “Cups of miraculous moisture”. The melody of Faust’s drinking song “Brave nectar, wonderful power” is full of youthful enthusiasm. In a dark, ominous tone painted a chorus of witches.

1 In our time the opera is in four acts with a prologue.

2 In the productions of some theaters, this picture precedes the scene in the dungeon.

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Summary Charles Gounod. Faust