Faust: Mikhail Vekua
Marguerite: Irina Churilova
Méphistophélès: Mikhail Petrenko
Valentin: Gamid Abdulov
World premiere: 19 March 1859, Théâtre Lyrique, Paris
Premiere at the Bolshoi (Kamenny) Theatre: 31 December 1863, Imperial Italian Opera Company
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 15 September 1869, Imperial Russian Opera Company (performed in Russian, translated by Pyotr Kalashnikov)
Premiere of this production: 26 April 2013
Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes
The performance has one interval
Music by Charles Gounod
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré after motifs from the eponymous legend and tragedy by Goethe
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
Choreographer: Dmitry Pimonov
Movement Director: Dan O’Neill
Musical Preparation: Natalia Mordashova
Principal Chorus Master: Konstantin Rylov
French language Coach: Ksenia Klimenko
Faust, an aging professor, despairs that his life has been wasted, since his studies, and religious faith have not given him the answers he was looking for (Rien! En vain j'interroge). He prepares to kill himself with poison but hesitates in doubt. He curses science and faith, and asks for infernal guidance. Méphistophélès appears (duet: Me voice) and, with a tempting image of young Marguerite at her looking glass, he persuades Faust to buy Méphistophélès's services on earth in exchange for Faust's in Hell. Faust's glass of poison becomes an elixir of youth, making the middle-aged doctor feel young; the strange companions then set out into the world.
A chorus of academics, soldiers and students sing a drinking song (Vin ou Bière). Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, is soon leaving for war and he entrusts the care of his sister to her friend Siébel (O sainte médaille ... Avant de quitter ces lieux). Méphistophélès appears and sings a rousing, irreverent song about the Golden Calf (Le veau d'or) and after, provides the uneasy crowdwine. Méphistophélès maligns Marguerite, and Valentin tries to strike him with his sword, which shatters in the air. Valentin uses the cross-shaped hilt of his sword to fend off what they now fear is an infernal power (chorus: De l'enfer). Méphistophélès is joined by Faust and the young girls in a waltz (Ainsi que la brise légère). Marguerite appears briefly and Faust attempts to charm her, but she refuses his offer to walk her home out of modesty.
Siébel leaves a bouquet for Marguerite (Faites-lui mes aveux). Méphistophélès insists in searching for a more tempting gift for Marguerite and Faust sings a cavatina (Salut, demeure chaste et pure) idealizing Marguerite as a pure child of nature. Méphistophélès returns with a beautiful box containing exquisite jewelry and Faust leaves it on Marguerite's doorstep, near Siébel's flowers. Marguerite enters, pondering her encounter with Faust, and sings a melancholy ballad about the King of Thulé (Il était un roi de Thulé). Marthe, Marguerite's neighbour, notices the jewelry 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). Méphistophélès and Faust join the women, Mephistopheles distracts Marthe and leaves Faust to seduce Marguerite. Marguerite eventually allows Faust to kiss her (Laisse-moi, laisse-moi contempler ton visage), but then in panic demands he goes away. She sings at her window of her interest in him, and Faust, listening, returns. Under the watchful eye and malevolent laughter of Méphistophélès, it is clear that Faust's seduction of young Marguerite is achieved.
After being impregnated and abandoned by Faust, Marguerite is a social outcast. She is alone in her room (Il ne revient pas). Siébel visits and stands by her. Marguerite goes to the church and tries to pray there but is frightened, first by Méphistophélès and then by a choir of demons. She finishes her prayer but faints when she is cursed again by Méphistophélès. The scene shifts to the return of the soldiers - Valentin's company returns from the war to a military march (Deposons les armes and Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux). Siébel tries to keep Valentin from Marguerite as she is afraid he will punish her, but after looking for her in the church he returns to Marguerites room and breaks in. While he is inside Faust and Méphistophélès appear, and Méphistophélès sings her a mocking burlesque of a lover's serenade (Vous qui faites l'endormie). Valentin emerges from her room, furious at what has happened to Marguerite and suspecting that it is Faust who has debauched his sister. The men fight, Méphistophélès 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 (Ecoute-moi bien Marguerite).
Méphistophélès and Faust return to visit Marguerite. Outside is Siebel, asleep, guarding her friend. Faust retrieves the key from the sleeping figure and enters Marguerite’s room. He sees she is in a terrible state, bleeding and pale, and may die. He and Marguerite sing a love duet (Oui, c'est toi que j'aime). Méphistophélès states that only Faust can deliver Marguerite from her fate, and he tries to help her, 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 her blood, pushes him away, and collapses. Méphistophélès curses, as a voice on high sings "Sauvée!" ("Saved!"). The bells of Easter sound and a chorus of angels sings "Christ est ressuscité!" ('"Christ is risen!"). And Marguerite's soul rises to heaven. In despair Faust follows it with his eyes; he falls to his knees and prays.
Interview with stage director and set designer Isabella Bywater >>
“How do you feel about religion?” the naïve Gretchen asks of Faust the scientist in Goethe’s tragedy. the librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré did not include this famous question in their own text for the opera, although for the composer the problems of religious themes was one of the most important issues. Charles Gounod was not just a rank and file parishioner – for several years he worked as a church musician and even contemplated becoming a priest. the astounding organ music and chorales in the opera Faust were written by the former church organist and precentor, for whom God and the Devil were by no means abstract beings. In staging Faust at the Mariinsky Theatre, British designer and stage director Isabella Bywater recalled her own experiences of religion, and it was interesting for her to observe “a religious man who does something that he knows is wrong in the eyes of his God.” As a representative of the liberal 21st century, Bywater does not regard the horned and tailed one as a separate entity: for her, Méphistophélès, like the devil from the snuffbox, “is born” straight out of Faust’s bed and forms an indivisible tandem together with him. It is not “the father of a lie”, but rather man who creates evil, and he must answer for this. Monsters swarm in the dark depths of the human soul (on the stage this is represented by silent figures of obliging demons), and each and everyone must restrain them him or herself.
The tragic story of the love between Faust and Marguerite in the Mariinsky Theatre’s production has been moved to the outset of the 20th century, though the director makes us understand: it is a story that repeats itself over and over. the protagonists wander among tombstones on which they may read their own names and dates from different centuries. Within the context of modern-day morality, when the old concepts of honour and dishonour or guilt and innocence have been reassessed, Bywater shows Faust’s sinfulness, comparing him to Nabokov’s Humbert and Marguerite to Lolita. the opera’s heroine is fourteen years of age, and her seducer is an old man who has re-acquired only his physical youthfulness. For Faust, the object of his affections is also initially simply the “nymphet” Gretchen, one of numerous schoolgirls with a satchel, a flower that there is an irresistible urge to pluck. Once plucked, this is a flower that turns out to be of no use to any man: neither to her lover nor to her brother. To depict this idea more clearly, Bywater has made Siébel, the only male character who is sympathetic to Marguerite, into a young woman.
The starkly bleak Gothic qualities of the stage designs do not stop Faust being a romantic production – thanks to Gounod. the simpler the gestures on the stage the more expressive the sound of the orchestra, which conveys the whole gamut of the characters’ emotions: from tenderness to frenzy, and from despair to ecstasy. the opera is crammed full of magnificent melodies, many of which have become established favourites in concert programmes: Méphistophélès’ couplets about the golden calf, Marguerite’s ballad about the King in Thule, Faust’s aria “Salute! demeure chaste et pure», the march of the soldiers, the waltz… the tragic death of Marguerite in the finale is experienced not as the triumph of death but rather as the triumph of love. Marguerite is saved because she has loved and ascends to God as to love. of this it is the music that speaks most convincingly of all. Khristina Batyushina
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