Sunday, March 18, 2012

Celebrating Charles Gounod's Faust, which premiered on this date in 1859

Erwin Schrott as Méphistophélès

Today we celebrate Charles Gounod's Faust, which premiered on March 19, 1859. We love the opera because it is one of a select group of operas that can feature three barihunks in a single evening. The roles of Méphistophélès, Valentin and Wagner are all cast with baritones. Méphistophélès is often cast with devilishly sexy baritones like John Relyea, Rene Pape or James Morris.

The opera got off to a rough start, initially being rejected by the Paris Opera and then not quite catching on with the public. It was revived in 1862 with a ballet added for the Parisians and became an instant hit. It has gone on to become one of the most popular operas in the standard repertory, opened the original Metropolitan Opera in 1883 and has been translated into 25 languages. It is currently the 35th most performed opera in the world.

Rene Pape sings Méphistophélès' aria "Le Veau d'Or":

The opera is loosely inspired by Goethe’s legendary story and timeless tale of the devil (Méphistophélès) who appears to the old scholar Faust, promising him the elixir of youth in exchange for his soul. Faust is transformed into a young, handsome man and sets out with his devious companion to experience the pleasures of the world. Faust seduces the beautiful and innocent Marguerite, only to abandon her before she gives birth to his child. Her reputation destroyed, but not beyond redemption, Marguerite calls upon the angels for salvation. Faust receives no such escape and is condemned to his devilish fate in this spiritual conflict between heaven and hell.

Gino Quilico sings Valentin's aria "Avant de quiter ces lieux":

Some of the greatest singers ever have taken on the role of Méphistophélès, including George London, Rene Pape, Sam Ramey, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Jerome Hines, John Relyea, Bryn Terfel, Boris Christoff, Jose Van Dam and Feodor Chaliapin.

Other famous operas based on the same story include Boito's "Mefistofele," Berlioz's "La Damnation de Faust," and Busoni's "Doktor Faust." Boito's opera is probably closest to Goethe's original story.

There was some concern when the opera first premiered, as French censors were worried that church officials would be highly offended by the appearance of the devil in a church. Gounod invited a concerned clergyman to attend a rehearsal of the scene. The clergyman declared that he found the scene not at all offensive and, in fact, was quite complimentary of it. The censors were mollified and the scene was allowed. Gounod never told them that the clergyman was blind and could not tell that the scene took place inside a church. The "Church scene" from Gounod's opera, in which Méphistophélès torments the already distraught and guilty Marguerite by telling her that she is eternally damned for giving herself to Faust, is the dramatic crux of Gounod's opera.

The final trio from Faust with Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann and Erwin Schrott:

Although this site is dedicated to baritones, we'd be remiss to not show you this clip of tenor Alfredo Kraus singing Faust, which is one of the great moments in recorded operatic history.

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1 comment:

  1. Rene Pape: amazing and sexy!
    Final trio: very beautiful, Erwin Schrott is the most sexy of them!