© All information copyrighted ......... Berta Calechman
It is with great pleasure that I write a little about Charles Gounod's
opera, "Faust" from a singer's perspective, for Anthony's premier U.S.
site. The role of Faust is one of the most famous
tenor roles in all of opera and has been sung by the greatest singers
of all time, including Enrico Caruso, Richard Tauber, Richard Tucker,
and Placido Domingo, to name a few. It's a Major League tenor role,
which when sung well can almost guarantee success for its
protagonist. The opera, by the way, has been sung in French, Italian,
German (where it's often called "Margarethe"), Swedish, and English.
Faust was the opera chosen to open the famous Metropolitan Opera
House in New York, on October 22, 1883. On that occasion it was
sung in Italian, but over the years it was restored to its original French.
The casts have been filled with immortal singers, and some not so
immortal ones. And the role of Mephistopheles has been sung by
the greatest bass of the last 2 centuries - Feodor Chaliapin.
The plot can be found in any "Opera101" book: Faust is an old man,
a scholar, who falls in love with the beautiful young maiden, Marguerite.
He yearns for her so much, that he calls upon the devil for help.
Mephistopheles appears and offers him back his youth, and a
guarantee that Marguerite will return his love. Of course, there is
a payback. Faust must give up his soul to the devil, in return.
The opera is filled with some of the most beautiful music ever written,
and each of the principals has a gorgeous aria to show off.
Marguerite's famous "Jewel Song", as it's called, is well-known
throughout the world, and has been sung by almost every soprano from
Maria Callas to Beverly Sills. It's a tour de force for lyric sopranos.
I sang it when I auditioned for, and won the Hartford Symphony Young
Artists Competition several years ago. Mephistopheles, for his first
entrance, often bursts up from the "Netherworld", with his words "Me Voici."
(Here I am), when Faust calls upon him. The devil then proceeds to sing
his famous "Calf of Gold" aria ("Le Veau d'Or"), where he tells Faust that
gold is always behind every action. Rulers and Kings, the great and the
humble, all kneel before him. "Et Satan conduit le bal." And Satan leads
the dance. Faust and Marguerite have several lovely duets, most notably
the second act love duet "Il Se Fait Tard", where Faust cajoles the
innocent Marguerite with words of love, and finally wins her over. She
pledges "Pour toi je veux mourir", (I would die for you) and after they
reluctantly say goodnight, they plan on "tomorrow." The final trio, with
Faust and Mephisto fighting for Marguerite's immortal soul is stunning
in its intensity. ("Alerte, alerte, ou vous etes perdu") Be careful, or you are
lost. But perhaps the most performed aria of all is Faust's second act
"Salut Demeure Chaste et Pure." Faust stands outside Marguerite's
humble cottage and sings of how she has taken over his heart and soul.
He muses on how she grew up and became a woman in that house,
so pure and so innocent, just like Marguerite herself. The aria is a
difficult one, with an exposed Top C about 6 measures from the end.
It's a show-stopping piece of music for a tenor with an easy, resonant
high vocal range, and a stunning high C. Hmmm, sounds like someone we
Author's notes: The role of Faust has been sung by tenors with lyric voices, and some with heavier voices, like Caruso, Domingo, Franco Corelli, and Richard Tucker. Richard Tauber sang the role in German, and the great Jussi Bjoerling sang it in Swedish before he came to America and sang it in French at the Met. But I feel the role is better suited to a lyric tenor, with its musical line, and soaring top notes. My friend Nicolai Gedda (see below) was himself the pre-eminent Faust of the last 40 years, beginning with his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1957, at the age of 32, and I learned a lot from him. In my opinion, Anthony Kearns is a most worthy successor to all the tenors who have sung Faust before him.
What unknown trouble is disturbing me
I feel love taking hold of my being
Here I am...at your feet.
How pure and chaste this house
Where one can feel the presence of
this innocent soul.
What riches in such poverty
What happiness in such a hovel.
O Nature, it's there that you made her
It's there that this child slept under your
wing, grew under your watchful eyes.
There that your breath envelopped her
And with love, a woman blossomed in that angel of Heaven.
Quel trouble inconnu me penetre
Je sens l'amour s'emparer de mon etre
A tes pieds me voici
Salut, demeure chaste et pure
Ou se devine la presence d'une ame
innocente et divine.
Que de richesse en cette pauvrete
En ce reduit, que de felicite
O nature, c'est la que tu la fit
C'est la que cette enfant a dormi sous
ton aile, a grandi sous tes yeux.
La que de ton haleine enveloppant son
Tu fis avec amour epanouir la femme en
cette ange des cieux..
Salut Demeure Chaste et Pure
There are any number of Faust
LPs, CDs and DVDs available. Click
on the album covers for examples.