Gounod’s Faust

The Lyric’s now showing Charles Gounod’s Faust. I’m quite new to opera so I don’t know how this sits with most fans, but I found the set design and use of deliberately jerky, old style animation and video captivating. These effects seemed at once and modern.

Faust is a well known tale of a miserable old man, a scholar on the verge of suicide, who feels life has slipped away. He could or should be so much more, he thinks. Life is unbearable without true love.

In walks Méphistophélès, the devil’s assistant, who has a deal. Méphistophélès offers to make Faust young again, which thrills Faust. Before he knows it, Faust has met the love of his life, an innocent, young woman named Marguerite, who in this production cannot walk without crutches. I haven’t sorted out if I think that enhanced the story, I tend to think it didn’t, mainly, because I’m not sure why that choice was made.

A subplot involves Siébel, a young man in town who’s in love with Marguerite. Siébel promises Marguerite’s brother that he’ll protect her while the brother is off at war. For Marguerite, there’s no chance of love with Siébel, who’s strictly friend material. I have no idea why a woman played Siébel. That choice did make it clear why Marguerite chose Faust, who was taller, stronger and manly.

Of course, things aren’t going to work out. Faust learns the price for his new-found youth is his soul. Marguerite winds up in love with Faust, unmarried and pregnant searching for some option out of her desperate situation.

The opera was innovative, but as much as I found the set design innovative, it did compete too much with the performances.

This opera’s pre-performance talk was very good as it not only provided a clear, engaging synopsis but added details into the composer Charles Gounod’s career and reason for writing this particular piece.

 

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Faust, Part 1

My online book club’s October pick was Faust, Part 1 by Goethe. While I liked the poetry of the play, I found it made me read too fast. The rhythm pulled me swiftly along, and pages would go by, before I realized I hadn’t remembered what had happened.

Faust is the legendary story of a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for success in this life. The bargain soon turns out to be horrid. Faust gets to seduce Margaret (sometimes called Gretchen), but she gets pregnant and since she lives in a society that will exact punishment for that transgression, she drowns the baby. Every favor turns out horrible for Faust.

I read that Goethe was influenced in part by the Book of Job. He takes the bet between Satan and God in a different direction, but it’s quite dramatic. The play ventures into that dark realm that’s I’d say next door to the horror genre, a genre I don’t like at all. So I found the play masterfully written, but I didn’t get into the story and doubt I’d return to it. Still it is worth reading.