Date with the Devil
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A Date with the Devil
The Devil has long had a leading part to play in drama and in music,either menacing mortals in a medieval miracle play or leading romantic heroesand heroines into difficulties in the world of romantic opera. The nineteenthcentury found a particular fascination in the character of the Devil, asupposed source of diabolical inspiration for a Paganini or a Liszt or aprincipal figure in Faustian legend.
Dr Faustus himself, perhaps based on the early scientist andexperimenter Paracelsus, found his place in German legend and in a moralpublication of 1587 that warned of the dangers of intellectual speculation.
This was the source of Christopher Marlowe's play, in which the good doctor,true to story, sells his soul to the Devil in return for a period of youth andconsequent pleasure. In the following century the Devil acquires heroic staturein Milton's Paradise Lost toreturn with less ambiguity in Goethe's great poetic drama, the source of somuch else in music and opera.
It is Goethe who is the source of inspiration for the French composerHector Berlioz, with his >Eight Scenes fromFaust, written in 1828 and 1829 under the impact of the translationof the first part of Goethe's Faust byGerard de Nerval, which had appeared in 1827. In 1845 Berlioz returned to thesubject, revising the earlier scenes and incorporating them into his dramaticlegend La damnation de Faust ('TheDamnation of Faust'), described as an operade concert, which has also lent itself to staging. The text for thelater work, still based on de Nerval, was adapted to its new purpose by AlmireGandonni?¿re and the composer, and the new composition was first heard in aconcert performance by the Opera-Comique in Paris in December 1846. The firststaging was in Monte Carlo in 1893. Berlioz considered, for a time,commissioning a new libretto for an opera under the title Mephistophel?¿s but the idea came tonothing.
It was in February 1846 that Berlioz introduced the public in Pesth toa new composition that had an immediate appeal to Hungarian patriotism, thenreaching a new pitch of enthusiasm. He had been advised to write somethingbased on a Hungarian national melody and had happily chosen Rakoczy, with its overt nationalistassociations, to create the Rakoczy March. Thiswas to form part of the work on which he was now working at every availablemoment during his concert tour of Germany and Austria and in the months thatfollowed Faust is first found in Hungary, allowing the march a new place. Inthe second part, rejuvenated by the Devil Mephistopheles, now his companionuntil his final damnation, from which there is to be no redemption,Mephistopheles entertains the students in Auerbach's cellar in Leipzig with Une puce gentille ('A delightful flea'), asong taken unchanged from the Eight Scenes, TheDevil's Serenade, from the thirdpart, provides an interlude in Faust's courtship of Marguerite.
Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le diable('Robert the Devil') deals with another kind of devilry. Stagedfirst at the Paris Opera in 1831, this grandopera is based on a Norman legend. The Norman Duke of the title istempted to evil by his friend Bertram, who, in the third act, set in a dark,misty countryside, calls on nuns from their deserted cloister to rise fromtheir graves and to help him in his task of luring Robert, through promise ofpleasures, to seize the magic branch, an act of sacrilege that will re-unitehim with his beloved Isabelle. The opera ends with Bertram, seducer of Robert'smother and hence his father, swallowed by the earth, as Robert finds Isabelleonce more.
The legend of Faust found another treatment in the work of the poetNikolaus Lenan, published in 1836 and revised four years later, a poem in whichFaust finally denounces Mephistopheles, before killing himself. The greatpianist and composer Franz Liszt drew inspiration from Lenau for two episodesfrom the poem, the second of which is generally known as the First Mephisto Waltz, >a dance in thevillage inn, where Mephistopheles plays his fiddle and leads the couples intothe forest for their pleasure.
Arrigo Boito enjoys a reputation as a librettist, the author of thetexts for Verdi's later operas SimonBoccanegra, Otello and Falstaff. Asa composer he won a final reputation for his opera Mefislojele, based on Goethe's Faust, a work first staged and ill-received in 1868, butrevised and staged again, with a more proficient cast, in 1875 and again, withfurther revision, in 1876. In a Prologue inheaven, Mephistopheles wagers in Ave Signor thathe can win the soul of Faust, a challenge accepted by the Almighty. In Faust'sstudy, as the old scholar reads, he is interrupted by a stranger,Mephistopheles, who announces himself in Sonlo spirto che nega sempre tutto ('I am the spirit who denieseverything always'). Faust, transformed, is with Mephistopheles on a peak inthe Harz mountains, where witches celebrate their Sabbath. Mephistopheles takesa glass globe and in Ecco il mondo ('Hereis the world') tells him of the emptiness of the world and its worthlessness,before throwing the globe down and conjuring up a vision of Margherita, wearinga blood-coloured neck-lace, while the dance of the witches grows in fury.
E.T.A. Hoffmann, known as GespensterHoffmann (Ghost Hoffmann), was a man of wide and varied talents,deployed in part in music and then, during the later part of his relativelyshort life, largely in writing Jacques Offenbach used an earlier play derivedfrom some of Hoffmann's stories for his opera Lescontes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann). In the play and theopera, the latter first staged in Paris in 1881, Hoffmann himself is portrayedas a lover, infatuated first with the mechanical doll Olympia, the creation ofold Dr Coppelius, then with a fated singer, Antonia, and finally with thefaithless Giulietta in Venice. At the heart of each succeeding disaster for thefictional Hoffmann is the bass as Dr Coppelius, the spurious Dr Miracle, whocauses Antonia's death, and the magician Dapertutto. It is this last who seeksthe reflection of Hoffmann, as he already has the reflection and hence the verysoul of Giulietta's other lover, enticing her with the promise of diamonds in Scintille, diamant! (Sparkle, diamond!).
The famous Barcarolle, oftenheard in instrumental isolation from its context, sets the scene in Venice.
Charles Gounod's opera Faust, firststaged in 1859 at the Paris Theatre Lyrique, remains the most popularmetamorphosis of Goethe 's poetic drama, based again on the French translationby Gerard de Nerval of the first part of that work. In the first act of theopera Mephistopheles has transformed the old scholar Faust into a youngnobleman and in the second they join a company of young men, drinking with themMephistopheles entertains the company with his blasphemous song Le veau d'or (The golden calf), beforerevealing his diabolical power, when a quarrel breaks out. Seduced by Faust,Marguerite gives birth to Faust's child, is shunned by her neighbours andapparently deserted by her lover. Her brother Valentin returns from the war andangrily bursts into the house, while outside Mephistopheles offers his ownsatirical Serenade, a parody ofFaust's own wooing in the previous act.
It was with the commission from the Russian impresario Sergey Dyagilevfor music for the new ballet The Firebird thatStravinsky had his first significant chance to make a name for himself. Thescore, later revise