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La damnation de Faust

Hector Berlioz 1803-1869

Légende dramatique in four parts
Libretto by Hector Berlioz & Almire Gandonnière
World premiere: December 6 1846, Opéra Comique, Paris
1st performance of this production June 13 2010

Sung in French with German and English surtitles.  ca. 2hrs, without an interval
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin

Faust, an old man, escapes the desolation of reality by taking refuge in a theatre, where he looks back on his life : Faust praises beauty and the solitude of nature. But the peace he thought to find proves short-lived. Farmers celebrating the arrival of spring appear to Faust in a vision, followed by an army. Faust takes no part whatsoever in either manifestion. Part II Filled with dispair about his weariness with life, Faust intends to commit suicide. As he raises a cup of poison to his lips he hears Easter hymns. Memories of his childhood overpower him. Méphistophélès suddenly appears, mocks Faust’s religious sentimentality and offers to fulfil his dreams. Faust consents. Faust is taken first to Auerbach’s cellar in Leipzig. He derives no pleasure from the bawling, revellers’ drinking session, Brander’s crude song about the »Rat in the celler«, the blamphemous »Amen« fugue and Méphistophélès’ cynical »song of the flea«. Filled with disgust Faust demands another form of entertainment. Méphistophélès sends Faust into a magical sleep during which he dreams of love, youth, and Marguerite, his future lover. Faust awakes and wants to see her immediately. Méphistophélès guides him through a noisy crowd of soldiers and students to Marguerite’s home. Part III Faust, alone in Marguerite’s room, is longing to meet her. When Marguerite arrives Méphistophélès urges him to hide. Marguerite has also dreamed of a lover. Lost in her thoughts she sings the ballad of the King of Thule. As soon as she has fallen asleep Méphistophélès summons his will-o’-the-wisps and sings a sinister song to ensure that Marguerite will be led to damnation. Marguerite meets Faust and recognises the unknown lover in her dreams. They profess their love for one another. Méphistophélès warns him to flee because the neighbours are aware that something is going on and want to alert Marguerite’s mother. Faust promises to return the following day. Part IV Marguerite waits in vain for Faust to return. Her all consuming longings are further aroused by the singing of passing soldiers and students. Faust’s hope that he might find strength in the sublimeness of nature proves to be an illusion. Méphistophélès tells him that Marguerite has been sentenced to death for murdering her mother – hoping that her lover would return she had given her mother a sleeping draught, which Faust had left behind, which gradually poisoned her. Faust implores Méphistophélès to rescue Marguerite. The price is a pact that obliges Faust to serve Méphistophélès. Weary of his fate, Faust signs it. But instead of taking him back to his beloved the wild ride on Méphistophélès’ magic horses takes Faust down to Hell. Marguerite dies. Old Faust finds himself once again on the stage. Marguerite’s transfiguration means nothing more to him than the echo of his hopes.

»In the shameful menagerie of our vices is one more hideous, evil and dirty than all the others – boredom!« (Charles Baudelaire) There is little left of the academic's former thirst for knowledge. Instead, in this reading by the legendary director Harry Kupfer, the aging Faust is engulfed by a cloud of ennui, a deadly, melancholic weariness with life. Seeking refuge in a delapidated theatre, he looks back on his life, reliving, accompanied by his demonic shadow, the scenes of his downfall once again. Damned never to love, he loses Marguerite – damned never to achieve redemption, the title figure sets off on an ecstatic ride to hell instead, in a darkly romantic finale.