25 Dec 2005

BERLIOZ: La damnation de Faust

La damnation de Faust, Légende dramatique en quatre parties

Music composed by Hector Berlioz. Libretto by Hector Berlioz, Almire Gandonanière and Gérard de Nerval after Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

First performance: 6 December 1846 at Opéra-Comique, Paris

Principal characters

MéphistophélèsBass or baritone


Part One

Faust, alone on a plain at sunrise, praises the awakening spring day, nature's renewal and his own life in solitude, far from the madding crowd. In a nearby village, merry country people celebrate spring with singing and dancing while an army equipped for battle marches by. Faust withdraws untouched by all.

Part Two

Having returned to his study pensive and unhappy, Faust sinks into profound melancholy and pessimism. Intent on suicide, he is about to drink a cup of poison when from outside he hears the Easter hymn. Faust remembers the purity and piety of his childhood. His faith is reawakened and he reaffirms his commitment to life.

Suddenly Méphistophélès appears and, scorning Faust's sentimentality, suggests that he go out into the world rather than dwell in philosophical speculation. He promises Faust, who is mistrustful at first, to fulfill his most extravagant desires. Faust follows this diabolical companion.

The first stop is Auerbach's Cellar in Leipzig. Faust dislikes the drinkers' raucous singing, Brander's coarse song about the "Rat in the Cellar," and Méphistophélès' cynical reply with his "Song of the Flea." He insists they leave without delay.

Méphistophélès next leads him to the banks of the Elbe and sends him to sleep on a bed of roses. Méphistophélès concocts seductive dreams that beguile Faust, showing him a picture of his mistress-to-be, Marguerite. On awakening, Faust demands to be taken to the girl. Méphistophélès promises to arrange it. He advises Faust to join the soldiers and students going into town and to follow them to Marguerite's house.

Part Three

In Marguerites' room, Faust is filled with a sweet premonition of his romantic adventure. When Marguerite appears, he conceals himself. Marguerite has already seen her lover-to-be in a dream. She sings the ballad of "The King of Thule," in which she gives expression to her longing. As soon as Marguerite has fallen asleep, Méphistophélès appears. His band of beguiling spirits seduce and lead Marguerite to her destruction. With a sarcastic song, Méphistophélès delights in his certain victory.

Faust and Marguerite meet and declare their love for one another. They are interrupted by Méphistophélès who urges Faust to flee as the neighbors have become suspicious and want to warn Marguerite's mother. Méphistophélès assures them that they can meet again the following evening.

Part Four

Marguerite has been jilted by Faust. She longs for his return but senses that he will not come back. The singing of the students and soldiers can be heard from the street below. This makes Marguerite even more conscious of her loneliness.

Meanwhile, Faust finds renewed strength in the midst of nature.

He learns from Méphistophélès that Marguerite is in prison awaiting execution for killing her mother — a crime for which Faust is responsible. Faust implores Méphistophélès to rescue Marguerite. He is prepared to do this on condition that Faust seals their pact with his signature. Faust walks into the trap. They charge off on Méphistophélès' magic horses, but not to Marguerite's dungeon. Instead they descend into the depths of hell amidst earthquakes, thunder, and bloody rain, where diabolical spirits are awaiting their arrival. Faust, dammed until eternity, is thrown into the flames; Méphistophélès is triumphant.

In heaven the angels welcome Marguerite who has been absolved of her sins.

Synopsis courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.

Click here for the complete libretto.