Home / Document and image bank / Librettos / Faust (Barbier & Carré)

Print content of page

Faust (Barbier & Carré)

Date

1859

Description

Opéra en 4 actes de Charles Gounod, d'après Goethe, créé au Théâtre-Lyrique le 19 mars 1859.

Synopsis

ACT ONE - Faust, despairing of ever attaining knowledge and finding a meaning for his studious existence, decides to end his life, while in the distance countryfolk sing of happiness and love. As he is about to drink the poison he invokes Satan . . . who duly appears in the guise of Méphistophélès and offers him his services. Disdaining wealth, glory and power, Faust asks for youth. A vision of Marguerite at her spinning-wheel seduces the old doctor, who signs the fatal pact, drinks the goblet in which the poison has been transformed into an elixir, is thereby rejuvenated and urges his infernal companion to take him to his beloved.

At the gates of the city a fair is in full swing. Valentin, before going off to war, is moved by the gift of a medallion from his sister Marguerite, whom he entrusts to the care of those who remain behind. Méphistophélès enters, sings of how gold rules the world, makes gloomy predictions to all present, draws Cyprus wine from the barrel of the inn sign and, mischievously pronouncing the name of Marguerite, provokes the anger of the soldiers, who brandish the cross-shaped pommels of their swords before him. A waltz now brings the cheerful crowd together; Siebel, like Faust, waits for Marguerite, who crosses the square with her eyes modestly lowered. Faust offers her his arm but finds himself rejected like a novice.

ACT TWO - On the threshold of Marguerite’s house, Siebel picks flowers that wither at once; he then finds that holy water can break the curse. Enter Faust with his devilish guide. The simplicity of the dwelling seems to him to reflect the image of Marguerite, who finally appears, still troubled by their meeting; the Ballad of the King of Thule, which she sings to herself, brings her back to her thoughts. Indifferent to the posy, she sees a casket left by Faust and decks herself in the jewels it contains. Her neighbour Dame Marthe does not disapprove of her conduct. Marthe learns of her estranged husband’s death from Faust and Méphistophélès, who have returned; she sets out to seduce the latter, while Faust and Marguerite make more timid confessions of love. After playing ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ with a daisy,[1] Marguerite abandons herself to her feelings, then begs her lover to leave her until the next day. Faust bids her good night. But Méphistophélès suggests he should listen to the words she utters to the starlit night. Faust joins her, they embrace, and the Devil exults.

ACT THREE - Abandoned by Faust and mocked by her female companions, Marguerite finds comfort in Siebel’s friendship. Valentin, returning with his soldiers, celebrates victory while Marguerite, who has come to the church to pray, is pursued by the demon’s accusing voice. Since Faust wants to see his lover again, Méphistophélès sings a mocking serenade under her window. But it is Valentin who emerges, determined to avenge the outrage of which Siebel has told him. He draws his sword. Faust, with the Devil’s help, deals him a mortal blow. In front of the assembled crowd, Valentin still finds the strength to curse his sister.

ACT FOUR - Faust witnesses the mysteries of Walpurgis Night and suddenly sees a ghostly image of Marguerite. Having reached the prison where, having murdered her child, she awaits execution, he tries to rescue her. But she has lost her reason. She invokes God’s mercy, abjures her lover and, summoned by the angels, departs this world to be reborn in heaven. 

[1] The common noun ‘marguerite’ means ‘daisy’ in French. (Translator’s note)

    Persons - 2
  • BARBIER, Jules (1825-1901)
  • CARRÉ, Michel (1822-1872)
  • Work - 1
  • Faust (Barbier & Carré / Gounod)
  • Themes - 2
  • Opera – Opera in France in the nineteenth century
  • Opéra – Le grand opéra français