Charles Gounod, drawing by Ingres
Charles-François Gounod (1818-1893) was a French composer of church music and operas. He was first urged to write for the theater by the mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot-Garcia (the lover of Russian writer Ivan Turgenev!). Seven of his operas were written with the librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. These were his librettists for his most famous opera, Faust (1859). Barbier and Carré based their version on Goethe's play, originally only the first part. They later added Act V of the opera, which includes episodes from the second part. When Gounod died in 1893, the opera had been performed over a thousand times in Paris. Gounod's Faust was in the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theater, where Bulgakov saw it many times. Faust is sung by a tenor, Méphistophélès by a bass.
Act I. Faust's study. The aged philosopher-magician, completely disillusioned, is ready for death. He is about to drink poison and is temporarily distracted by offstage choruses of girls and men estolling life and love and God. Faust utters curses and calls for Satan's help.
Faust is at first indifferent to the riches offered him; he wants only the pleasures of youth. Méphistophélès persuades him to sign a binding contract by showing him a vision of the young Marguerite. The contract stipulates that Faust will be master on earth, but will revert to Hell's slavery after a certain time. Faust drinks a potion and becomes young again. The two depart for their fantastic adventures.
Act II. A fair at a city marketplace. The student Wagner sings a short solo in praise of drink; the soldiers, old men, girls and youths join in. Valentin enters, looking at an amulet given to him by his sister Marguerite to keep him from harm in the war he is about to fight in. Valentin is worried about leaving Marguerite alone, but the love-smitten youth Siébel promises to look after her. Valentin sings the aria "Avant de quitter ces lieux" [Before leaving this place], then Wagner leads the crowd in "The Song of the Rat." But a stranger interrupts.
M. N. Engel'-Kron as Valentin in the 1900s
(From Kiev Mikhaila Bulgakova, 147)
It is Méphistophélès, who sways the crowd with the
"Calf of Gold" aria, then reads Wagner's palm, predicting early
death. He viciously informs Siébel that flowers will wither in his
grasp. Valentin comes forward, to be told he will be killed. Méphistophélès
tries the wine, but spits it out and magically produces his own. He toasts
Marguerite, ignoring Valentin's anger, and all the others draw their swords.
Méphistophélès inscribes a circle around himself with
his sword, which breaks Valentin's at the first attack. Now realizing the
evil force among them, the men reverse their swords so the hilts becom crosses.
The Devil cowers.
Act III. Siébel, troubled by the stranger's prophecy, tries it
out in Marguerite's garden. His song dedicates the flowers to his beloved,
but they do indeed wither in his hand. Dipping his fingers in holy water
under a shrine to the Virgin, he finds he can pluck a fresh bouquet safely,
and leaves it for Marguerite. The Devil, watching, runs off to get a richer
gift, leaving Faust to contemplate in ecstasy the house of his loved one
in the aria "Salut, demeure chaste et pure" [Hail thou dwelling
chaste and pure]. Satan returns with a casket of jewels. Faust, touched
by Marguerite's innocence, draws Méphistophélès away.
Act IV. Marguerite, at her spinning wheel, mourns the departure of her
lover. Behind the scene, a chorus of girls mocks her situation. Siébel
comes to comfort her and sings of his love. Marguerite goes to church to
pray for her unborn child. In the church, it is the Devil who confronts
the sinner, denying her the solace of prayer. Choruses of demons and priests
vie for her soul, but Méphistophélès has the last word.
Act V. The revels of Walpurgis Night, the eve of May 1, on the Brocken,
highest peak. In a lush landscape, Faust is introduced to legendary courtesans:
Aspasia, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Lais, Phryne, and Astarte. In the midst
of an ensuing orgy, the vision of Marguerite appears to Faust, a thin red
line around her throat, as if drawn by a knife. He demands to be taken to
Adapted from Quaintance Eaton, Opera: A Pictorial Guide (NY: Abaris,