New York Metropolitan Opera Broadcast
Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 15th of April 2007 at 3pm
This French opera has five acts, including, naturally, a ballet (a Walpurgis Night revel, or orgy, but restrained and tuneful).
Our local opera group in Palmerston North has watched a videotape of a Covent Garden production, with Bryn Terfel as Mephistopheles. Roberto Alagna was Faust (the rejuvenated professor) and Angela Gheorghiou was Marguerite (the virtuous virgin). In real life they are legitimately matrimonified; but on the stage they are illicitly liaisoned, and no good will come from their passionate dalliance. Alagna and Angela also make a nice couple in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet. Another surviving opera of Gounod's is Mireille, which I have seen in London and have an audio- recording of it on black discs.
For Faust the setting is Germany in the 15th century, and the old philosopher Doctor Faustus is brooding over his lost youth and how he can buy it back from God or the Evil One; speak of the Devil and he appears, in the guise of the debonair Mephistopheles. A deal is done (Faust sells his soul) and two randy lads go off in search of sexual adventures. Faust knows who he wants, because he has been given a vision of a beautiful young spinster named Marguerite, at her spinning wheel, and of course spinning is what spinsters do. He wants to take her for a spin and a spoon, but the Satanic web that Mephisto is spinning will ensure that it is a bad spin for this innocent virgin, and the wooden-spoon prize is hovering.
Act 2 takes us to a town-fair, where we meet all the characters, and Faust has his first encounter with Marguerite: she refuses his invitation to dance with him!
In Act 3 poor young Siebel leaves his love-token for Marguerite, a posy, while Faust deposits a casket of jewels (purchased with a loan from the Bank of Hell). He hails her dwelling in song. She sings the ballad of the King of Thule, then opens the box; it is no booby prize, and before long a long love-duet is being rapturously rhapsodized (Greek for 'stitching a song') out of the spun threads, and they both finish up (offstage) without a stitch of clothing on their bodies, we may presume, because .....
Act 4.1 shows Marguerite, now an illegitimate mother, trying to pray in a church, while being harassed by Mephisto and his demonic choir.
Act4.2 has the famous soldiers' march and chorus. Her brother Valentin (he's lovely but no saint) arrives home from war, to fight against the blackguard who has ruined his sister. He loses (because Faust has the protective power of Satan), and as he dies he badmouths his sister.
Act 5.1-2 contains the ballet: Mephisto brings on the will-o'-the wisps (souls of dead persons) and a parade of celebrated tarts like Cleopatra.
Act 5.3 is in Marguerite's prison-cell (infanticide was her crime). Faust is trying to persuade her to come away with him, and Mephisto wants to have both of them to keep him company in the Netherworld. But in a grand grand finale she is borne aloft to Paradise by angels (but I have heard of productions which make her fall through a trapdoor).
This opera was based on Goethe's great drama Faust. Germans do not think it is up to that standard and they call it Gounod's Marguerite.
The video our group watched was pi-rated, and so is the opera: the melodies are all judged to be as sweet as apple pie, topped with thick cream and golden syrup. But it gets your feet tapping, and your hands waving like a conductor's, and you whistle the tunes, and sing along with the orchestra. Well, I do.