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Gounod's Faust

Duration:
3 hours, 45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 24 September 2011

Granted, the plot's not up to much. Cursed by her brother, the virginal Marguerite is left pregnant, miserable, mad and seemingly beyond redemption by the ageing Faust who's made a devilish pact to exchange his soul for youth. All's well that ends well though, because by close of play Marguerite has been borne up to heaven by a chorus of angels. But when has an implausible story ever been a problem for an opera? Because what matters about Gounod's 'Faust' (and what has kept it in the repertoire for over 150 years) is a succession of showstoppers, including solo numbers (the famous Jewel Song among them), ensembles and choruses. What 'Faust' needs is a stellar cast, which is what we get in this revival of David McVicar's Royal Opera House production broadcast live from Covent Garden. It's led by Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite who's joined by a trio of fetching men. The young Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo plays the vile seducer of the title role, the charismatic bass René Pape is the diabolical Méphistophélès who makes Faust an offer he can't refuse, and smouldering Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is Valentin, the brother Marguerite could live without.

Presented by Louise Fryer in conversation with Claire Launchbury.

Faust ..... Vittorio Grigolo (Tenor)
Méphistophélès ..... René Pape (Bass)
Marguerite ..... Angela Gheorghiu (Soprano)
Valentin ..... Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Baritone)
Siebel ..... Michele Losier (Mezzo-soprano)
Martha Schwerlein ..... Carole Wilson (Mezzo-soprano)

Conductor ..... Evelino Pidò
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

  • Vittorio Grigolo as Faust

    Vittorio Grigolo as Faust

    (c) Catherine Ashmore / The Royal Opera 2011

  • René Pape as Méphistofèlés

    René Pape as Méphistofèlés

    (c) Catherine Ashmore / The Royal Opera 2011

  • Vittorio Grigolo as Faust and Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite

    Vittorio Grigolo as Faust and Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite

    (c) Catherine Ashmore / The Royal Opera 2011

  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Valentin and Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite

    Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Valentin and Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite

    (c) Catherine Ashmore / The Royal Opera 2011

  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Valentin with Dancers

    Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Valentin with Dancers

    (c) Catherine Ashmore / The Royal Opera 2011

  • Caberet L'Enfer

    Caberet L'Enfer

    Production Image
    (c) Catherine Ashmore / The Royal Opera 2011

  • Synopsis - Act I

    Weary of life and the vain pursuit of knowledge, the aged Faust decides on suicide. He is stopped in his tracks by the light of dawn and voices singing God’s praises. Faust bitterly renounces God and calls on Satan. Méphistophélès duly appears. He will satisfy Faust’s hedonistic demands in return for the philosopher’s soul. Hesitating at the last moment before signing the diabolic contract, Faust is finally swayed by a vision conjured up by Méphistophélès of the beautiful and innocent Marguerite: Faust must have her.

  • Act II

    The town is celebrating. In their midst, Valentin is preoccupied with thoughts of leaving to fight in the war. He asks his friends to look after his sister Marguerite while he is away; among them is Siébel, who is in love with her. They are interrupted by Méphistophélès, who sings a blasphemous song and makes innuendos about Marguerite. This is too much for Valentin who is roused to defend his sister and attack Méphistophélès, but his sword breaks mid-air and everyone hastily withdraws. Méphistophélès is joined by Faust; when Marguerite appears she rejects Faust’s attentions.

  • Act III

    Siébel is in love with Marguerite and leaves a bouquet of flowers for her. Next, Faust extols the virtues of Marguerite’s home while Méphistophélès also finds something to leave her: a box full of jewels. Marguerite appears, lost in thought, but is overcome with excitement as she discovers the jewel box and tries on its contents. Marthe Schwertlein, Marguerite’s neighbour, thinks that the jewels must be from an admirer. W hen both women are joined by Méphistophélès and Faust, the former distracts Marthe so that Faust may seduce Marguerite.

  • Act IV

    Five months have passed. Marguerite has been deserted by Faust, but is carrying his child. In church, her prayers are repeatedly interrupted by demons. She faints as Méphistophélès’s final curse denies her the hope of salvation.

    Soldiers return from the war, Valentin among them. He asks Siébel to tell him how his sister is, but Siébel’s evasions prompt him angrily to rush into Marguerite’s house to find out for himself. Méphistophélès and Faust arrive, and the Devil satirically serenades Marguerite. Valentin emerges from the house demanding to know who is responsible for his sister’s shame. In the ensuing duel, Faust mortally wounds Valentin, who with his final words denies Marguerite any Christian compassion and damns her for eternity.

  • Act V

    It is Walpurgis Night and a diabolic ballet ensues. Faust is subjected to visions, the last of which is of Marguerite in prison for the murder of their child and awaiting execution. Faust wants to go to her, and Méphistophélès obliges. Together in the cell, Faust and Marguerite remember their shared moments of love and Faust urges her to flee with him, but she resists, calling for divine protection. Marguerite’s supplication is answered: her soul ascends to heaven.

    (c) The Royal Opera / 2011

Broadcasts

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    Radio 3 Guide to the Opera

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