Marguerite soprano Katy Lindhart
Mephistopheles bass Ben LeClair
Faust tenor Chris Swanson
Valentin baritone Kevin Wetzel
Siebel soprano Kim Christie
Wagner baritone Jason Buckwalter
Martha mezzosoprano Catrin Davies
Western culture includes many examples of frustrated men bargaining with the devil, from the 6th-century cleric Theophilus of Adana to the 20th-century Mississippi blues musician Robert Johnson. Gounod’s Faust is about the most famous example, yet the Faust story also speaks to universal desires for knowledge, power, and affection.
Set in sixteenth-century Germany, Faust is a old, disappointed scholar. His pursuit of wisdom has come at the expense of a meaningful personal life. He resolves to poison himself, damning God and and invoking the devil.
Summoned, Méphistophélès appears and offers the scholar riches, power, or glory. Faust only desires youth. Méphistophélès agrees to transform him into a handsome young man, but only in exchange for Faust’s soul. Faust hesitates at the idea of eternal damnation, but Méphistophélès entices him by showing him a vision of a radiantly beautiful young woman named Marguerite. Faust agrees, and the pair leaves his chambers.
Act Two opens with Marguerite’s brother Valentin about to leave for war with his friend Wagner. Valentin entrusts his sister’s care to Siebel, and they begin to share a final drink before their departure. There with Faust, Méphistophélès toasts Marguerite, which angers Valentin. The demon’s power foils the soldier’s attempted revenge, and later, dancers appear, among whom Faust sees Marguerite. He asks her to dance, but modest, she refuses, leaving him even more smitten.
Also enamored with Marguerite, Siebel gathers flowers at the beginning of Act Three to leave as a present for her. Méphistophélès and Faust are watching, and Méphistophélès leaves a box of jewels for Marguerite. The young woman finds the presents on the doorstep and dons the jewelry. Her neighbor says they are the gift of a suitor. Faust and Méphistophélès return, and while the demon flirts with the neighbor, Faust begins to seduce Marguerite. She demurs, and he leaves dejected, but Méphistophélès allows him to hear Marguerite’s private longing for him. Faust returns to her and finishes what he had earlier started.
Act Four finds Marguerite pregnant with Faust’s child but abandoned by the former scholar. However, she remains in love with him. Valentin returns, and though Siebel tries to stop him from seeing his pregnant sister, Valentin insists. His fury coincides with the reappearance of Méphistophélès and Faust, the former of whom mockingly sings a lover’s song outside her window.
Enraged, Valentin emerges from the house to fight his sister’s seducer, but Méphistophélès intervenes in the duel, and Faust fatally stabs Valentin. Valentin curses his sister with his dying breath, blaming her for everything. Upset, Marguerite goes to church to beg for forgiveness, but when she hears the voice of Méphistophélès telling her she is instead damned, she faints in horror.
Act Five begins with Méphistophélès and Faust among some demons celebrating Walpurgisnacht. Méphistophélès promises his morose companion the attention of history’s most desirable women, but Faust sees a vision of Marguerite and becomes distracted. Having killed her baby, she is now in prison and mentally unstable.
Faust asks for Méphistophélès’ help to go to her cell and save her from the hangman. Once there, Marguerite recognizes Faust, who is beset by remorse and compassion. Méphistophélès encourages the couple to follow him and escape, but Marguerite is terrified by the sight of the undisguised demon.
Rebuffing Faust and earnestly appealing to heaven with her last words, Marguerite dies. Her soul arises to heaven while the repentant Faust falls to his knees.
Charles Gounod (1818-1893) was one of many artists fascinated by the Faust legend and the human desires and paradoxes that it represents. British playwright Christopher Marlowe dramatized the scholar's predicament for the stage in Doctor Faustus (1592), but it was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poetic Faust (Part I, 1808; Part II, 1832) that inspired the French composer. After collaborating with librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, Gounod's Faust premiered in Paris on March 19, 1859. Since its debut, Faust has been translated into 25 languages and remains among the top 40 operas performed worldwide.
Summer Garden Opera is pleased to share with you Gounod's Faust; a happy success that was never realized by the opera's tortured, titular character.