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234th Season

Charles Gounod "Faust" (opera in five acts)

Nicky Shaw, Costume Designer
Jules Barbier, Libretto author
Michel Carre, Libretto author
Jennifer Schreiver, Lighting Designer
Maestro Valery Gergiev, Musical Director
Natalia Mordashova, Musical Preparation
Andrei Petrenko, Principal Chorus Master
Performed in French (with Russian supertitles)
World premiere: 19 Mar 1859 Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Premiere of this production: 26 Apr 2013

The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes

Music by Charles Gounod
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre

Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Director and Set Designer: Isabella Bywater
Costume Designers: Isabella Bywater with Nicky Shaw
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Schreiver
Video Designers: Nina Dunn, Ian William Galloway with Salvador Avila
Programmer: Salvador Avila
Musical Preparation: Natalia Mordashova
Assistant Directors: Dan O’Neill, Kristina Larina
Assistant Set Designer: Nicky Shaw
French language Coach: Ksenia Klimenko

The opera Faust is one of the most popular French operas, second only to Carmen, but some individual arias and songs from it are even more popular as stage “hits” – Marguerite’s “jewel song”, Siebel’s romance, Valentin’s cavatina, Mephistophelès’ couplets and serenade and Faust’s cavatina. Today it is hard to believe that the first production at the Theâtre Lyrique in Paris enjoyed little success – the public did not like it and no publisher agreed to print the score. Antoine Choudens was the most shrewd publisher (later he was the first to print Bizet’s Carmen and works by the young Debussy). Having purchased the rights to the masterpiece, despite its lack of popularity, Choudens was also its first “producer”, fervently offering Faust to other theatres. In 1860 this French opera was performed at German theatres. And only after the opera began its triumphant march from one European and American theatre to another (it was staged in New York in 1863) did it finally come to the attention of the Opera de Paris where it was staged in 1869, though for this to take place the composer had to add the ballet scene Walpurgis Night. The same year, on 15 September 1869, the opera was staged at the Mariinsky Theatre.

The opera is now being staged by Isabella Bywater, who has already worked at the Mariinsky Theatre as a production designer for Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream (production by Claudia Solti). Faust is Bywater’s first work as a production director. Isabella Bywater is convinced that there is a hidden danger in the music: “It is interesting to listen to beautiful music while at the same time dark forces are afoot on-stage. This incredible counterpoint influences your view of the music – you hear its beauty but at the same time you sense the danger.”

The lead roles are being rehearsed by Khachatur Badalyan, Sergei Semishkur, Alexander Trofimov, Dmitry Voropaev and Nikolai Yemtsov (Dr Faust), Irina Churilova, Yekaterina Goncharova, Violetta Lukyanenko, Oxana Shilova and Eleonora Vindau (Marguerite), Askar Abdrazakov, Ildar Abdrazakov, Vladimir Felyauer and Alexei Tanovitsky (Méphistophélès), Viktor Korotich, Alexei Markov, Vladimir Moroz and Vladislav Sulimsky (Valentin), Nikolai Kamensky, Yevgeny Ulanov and Grigor Verner (Wagner), Yulia Matochkina, Yekaterina Sergeyeva, Irina Shishkova and Mayram Sokolova (Siébel) and Elena Vitman and Svetlana Volkova (Marthe).

© Mariinsky Theatre

Faust is a grand opera in five acts by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre from Carre's play Faust et Marguerite, in turn loosely based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Part 1. It debuted at the Theвtre Lyrique on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris on 19 March 1859.

Faust was rejected by the Paris Opera, on the grounds that it was not sufficiently "showy", and its appearance at the Theatre-Lyrique was delayed for a year because Adolphe d'Ennery's drama Faust was playing at the Porte St. Martin. The manager Leon Carvalho (who cast his wife Marie Miolan-Carvalho as Marguerite) insisted on various changes during production, including cutting several numbers.

Faust was not initially well-received. The publisher Antoine Choudens, who purchased the copyright for 10,000 francs, took the work (with added recitatives replacing the original spoken dialogue) on tour through Germany, Belgium, Italy and England, with Marie Miolan-Carvalho repeating her role.

It was revived in Paris in 1862, and was a hit. A ballet had to be inserted before the work could be played at the Opera in 1869: it became the most frequently performed opera at that house and a staple of the international repertory, which it remained for decades, being translated into at least 25 languages.

Its popularity and critical reputation have declined somewhat since around 1950. A full production, with its large chorus and elaborate sets and costumes, is an expensive undertaking, particularly if the act 5 ballet is included. However, it appears as number 35 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.

It was Faust with which the Metropolitan Opera in New York City opened for the first time on 22 October 1883. It is the eighth most frequently performed opera there, with 747 performances through the 2011-2012 season. It was not until the period between 1965 and 1977 that the full version was performed (and then with some minor cuts), and all performances in that production included the Walpurgisnacht and the ballet.

Place: Germany
Time: 16th century

Act 1

Faust's cabinet

Faust, an aging scholar, determines that his studies have come to nothing and have only caused him to miss out on life and love (Rien! En vain j'interroge). He attempts to kill himself (twice) with poison but stops each time when he hears a choir. He curses science and faith, and asks for infernal guidance. Mephistopheles appears (duet: Me voici) and, with a tempting image of Marguerite at her spinning wheel, persuades Faust to buy Mephistopheles's services on earth in exchange for Faust's in Hell. Faust's goblet of poison is magically transformed into an elixir of youth, making the aged doctor a handsome young gentleman; the strange companions then set out into the world.

Act 2

At the city gates

A chorus of students, soldiers and villagers sing a drinking song (Vin ou Biere). Valentin, leaving for war with his friend Wagner, entrusts the care of his sister Marguerite to his youthful friend Siebel (O sainte medaille ... Avant de quitter ces lieux). Mephistopheles appears, provides the crowd with wine, and sings a rousing, irreverent song about the Golden Calf (Le veau d'or). Mephistopheles maligns Marguerite, and Valentin tries to strike him with his sword, which shatters in the air. Valentin and friends use the cross-shaped hilts of their swords to fend off what they now know is an infernal power (chorus: De l'enfer). Mephistopheles is joined by Faust and the villagers in a waltz (Ainsi que la brise legere). Marguerite appears and Faust declares his admiration, but she refuses Faust's arm out of modesty.

Act 3

Marguerite's garden

The lovesick boy Siebel leaves a bouquet for Marguerite (Faites-lui mes aveux). Faust sends Mephistopheles in search of a gift for Marguerite and sings a cavatina (Salut, demeure chaste et pure) idealizing Marguerite as a pure child of nature. Mephistopheles brings in a decorated box containing exquisite jewelry and a hand mirror and leaves it on Marguerite's doorstep, next to Siebel's flowers. Marguerite enters, pondering her encounter with Faust at the city gates, and sings a melancholy ballad about the King of Thule (Il etait un roi de Thule). Marthe, Marguerite's neighbour, notices the jewellery and says it must be from an admirer. Marguerite tries on the jewels and is captivated by how they enhance her beauty, as she sings in the famous aria, the Jewel Song (Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir). Mephistopheles and Faust join the women in the garden and romance them. Marguerite allows Faust to kiss her (Laisse-moi, laisse-moi contempler ton visage), but then asks him to go away. She sings at her window for his quick return, and Faust, listening, returns to her. Under the watchful eye and malevolent laughter of Mephistopheles, it is clear that Faust's seduction of Marguerite will be successful.

Act 4

After being impregnated and abandoned by Faust, Marguerite has given birth and is a social outcast. She sings an aria at her spinning wheel (Il ne revient pas). Siebel stands by her. The scene shifts to the square outside Marguerite's house. Valentin's company returns from the war to a military march (Deposons les armes and Gloire immortelle de nos aпeux, the well-known "soldiers' chorus"). Siebel asks Valentin to forgive Marguerite. Valentin rushes to her cottage. While he is inside Faust and Mephistopheles appear, and Mephistopheles, thinking that only Marguerite is there, sings a mocking burlesque of a lover's serenade under Marguerite's window (Vous qui faites l'endormie). Valentin comes out of the cottage, now knowing that Faust has debauched his sister. The three men fight, Mephistopheles blocking Valentin's sword, allowing Faust to make the fatal thrust. With his dying breath Valentin blames Marguerite for his death and condemns her to Hell before the assembled townspeople (Ecoute-moi bien Marguerite). Marguerite goes to the church and tries to pray there but is stopped, first by Mephistopheles and then by a choir of devils. She finishes her prayer but faints when she is cursed again by Mephistopheles.

Act 5

The Harz mountains on Walpurgis Night / A cavern / The interior of a prison

Mephistopheles and Faust are surrounded by witches (Un, deux et trois). Faust is transported to a cave of queens and courtesans, and Mephistopheles promises to provide Faust with the love of the greatest and most beautiful women in history. An orgiastic ballet suggests the revelry that continues throughout the night. As dawn approaches, Faust sees a vision of Marguerite and calls for her. Mephistopheles helps Faust enter the prison where Marguerite is being held for killing her child. They sing a love duet (Oui, c'est toi que j'aime). Mephistopheles states that only a mortal hand can deliver Marguerite from her fate, and Faust offers to rescue her from the hangman, but she prefers to trust her fate to God and His angels (Anges purs, anges radieux). At the end she asks why Faust's hands are covered in blood, pushes him away, and falls down motionless. Mephistopheles curses, as a voice on high sings "Sauvee!" ("Saved!"). The bells of Easter sound and a chorus of angels sings "Christ est ressuscite!" ('"Christ is risen!"). The walls of the prison open, and Marguerite's soul rises to heaven. In despair Faust follows it with his eyes; he falls to his knees and prays. Mephistopheles is turned away by the shining sword of the archangel.[4]

© wikipedia

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