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Charles Gounod (1818-1893)


Faust, the fourth of Gounod’s operas, was first staged at the Paris Théâtre Lyrique on 19th March 1859. Recitatives were later added, with a ballet to fulfil the requirements of the Paris Opéra, where the work was staged in this expanded form ten years later. The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré is based on Carré’s three-act play Faust et Marguerite, itself derived from Gérard de Nerval’s translation of the first part of Goethe’s Faust. Various cuts were made during rehearsals for the first performance, in which the role of Faust was eventually taken, at short notice, by Joseph-Théodore-Désiré Barbot, Marguerite by Caroline Carvalho and Méphistophélès by Emile Balanqué. Valentin’s second act Avant de quitter ces lieux, a French version of the English Even the bravest heart may swell, added for the London English production of 1864, is here omitted, and was derived by the composer from a melody heard in the Prelude. The Walpurgisnacht ballet scene, added for the Opéra, is also omitted, as it often is in stage performances.

In his autobiography A Mingled Chime Sir Thomas Beecham gives an account of the lucky part that Gounod’s Faust played in his own career. Waiting for a chance to introduce an opera of his own to the impresario of a newly established touring opera company in 1902, he found himself called in to provide a piano accompaniment for a soprano who had not brought her music with her, auditioning for the part of Marguerite. He was able to accompany her from memory and when it turned out that he knew all the operas planned for the season and had accompanied the impresario himself in a series of favourite tenor arias, for which he offered increasing praise, he found himself engaged as second conductor for the tour. His services to opera in England were very considerable, from the days of the Beecham Symphony Orchestra before the war, to the foundation in 1915 of the Beecham Opera Company and in the 1930s an association with Covent Garden. Having lost control of his London Philharmonic Orchestra, which had become self-governing, Beecham established his own Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946, after war years spent largely in New York. In the same year Covent Garden re-opened, not under Beecham, who had had artistic control until 1939, but under Karl Rankl.

Beecham naturally used his own newly formed orchestra for his recording of Gounod’s Faust, calling on the services of singers that included the French baritone Roger Bourdin, who was to spend some forty years in the service of the Paris Opéra-Comique from 1922 until his retirement in the 1960s and had appeared at Covent Garden in the 1930s as Pelléas to Maggie Teyte’s Mélisande. He was lucky to be able to engage Geori Boué, a distinguished soprano, who had sung the rôle at the Paris Opéra in the course of an international career, with the bass Roger Rico and the tenor Georges Noré, whose performance as Nicias in Massenet’s Thaïs is preserved on record.


CD 1

Act I

1 The ominous orchestral introduction includes the melody later used for Valentin’s prayer in the second act, in which he seeks divine protection for his sister Marguerite during his own absence. The aria, as here, is often omitted.

2 The opening scene is set in the study of the old scholar Faust. It is night and the old man is seated at a table laden with parchments. The lamp is nearly out and he has an open book in front of him. Faust muses on his situation, sad, alone and powerless in his search to fathom the secrets of nature. In despair he closes the book and stands up. Dawn is breaking and Faust goes to open the casement. Unwilling to face yet another day, he takes from the table a vial of poison and pours its contents into a goblet, ready to drink a last salute to the day.

3 As Faust is about to drink, the sound is heard from outside of girls singing, welcoming the new day. Once again he is about to drink, but his hand trembles when the sound of farm-labourers is heard, as they go to work, greeting the day and blessing God. He sinks back in his chair.

4 Faust asks what God can do for him; will he give him back love, youth and faith? He calls down a curse on human pleasures, on knowledge, prayer and faith and summons Satan to his aid. His call is answered and Mephistopheles appears in the guise of a gentleman, sword at his side, feather in his hat, a purse full of gold and a rich cloak round his shoulders. Faust tries to send him away, but Mephistopheles will have none of it and asks Faust what he wants, money, glory or power. Faust wants something that will hold them all, youth, with all the pleasures it brings, and Mephistopheles offers this, for a small return, almost nothing: here Mephistopheles will be at his service and later Faust will serve him. He hands Faust a parchment for his signature, but the latter still hesitates.

5 To convince him Mephistopheles conjures up a vision of Marguerite at her spinning-wheel. Faust signs and Mephistopheles hands him the goblet. Faust, enraptured, drinks to Marguerite. As he drains the goblet, he is transformed into a young man; the vision disappears, while Mephistopheles promises to lead him to the girl and to the pleasures he desires.


Act II

6 The scene is set by one of the gates of the city of Leipzig, where a fair is being celebrated. At one side is a tavern, with the sign of the God Bacchus. The voices of students, Wagner among them, are heard from the tavern celebrating the joys of drinking. Soldiers sing of the joys of girls or battles and townspeople of soberer enjoyment. Girls flirt, watched enviously by older women, in a general air of festivity.

7 The young soldier Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, enters. He holds in his hand a holy medal, given him by his sister to protect him from danger in battle. He hangs the medal round his neck and goes towards the tavern, where he is welcomed by Wagner, but is always worried about leaving his sister alone and unprotected. Siebel, who is in love with Marguerite, promises to look after her. Wagner calls for further celebration and sings his song of the rat. He is interrupted by Mephistopheles, who offers his own song.

8 Mephistopheles sings the Rondo of the Golden Calf, in praise of gold, worshipped by mankind, where Satan leads the way.

9 The company thanks Mephistopheles for his song and Wagner invites him to drink with them. Mephistopheles takes his hand and reads in his palm the sign of death in battle, then, taking Siebel’s hand, tells him that any flower he touches will fade, so there can be no bouquets for Marguerite. Valentin asks how he knows his sister’s name and Mephistopheles warns him, foretelling his death at the hands of one he knows. He takes a beaker from Wagner and drinks their health. The wine, though, is bad, he says, and offers them some from his own cellar. Climbing onto a bench he taps on a small barrel with the sign of Bacchus on it, calling on Lord Bacchus and then on the company to drink to Marguerite. Valentin, angry, seizes the beaker from Mephistopheles and throws the contents down, at which the wine bursts into flames. He challenges Mephistopheles, and the students and their friends draw their swords. Mephistopheles draws a circle round himself with his sword and those seeking to attack him find themselves thwarted, while Valentin’s sword breaks. Valentin accuses Mephistopheles of de
Item number 8110117-18
Barcode 636943111727
Release date 01/01/2001
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Historical
Media type CD
Number of units 2
Artists Nore, Georges
Bourdin, Roger
Rico, Roger
Nore, Georges
Bourdin, Roger
Rico, Roger
Composers Gounod, Charles
Gounod, Charles
Conductors Beecham, Thomas
Beecham, Thomas
Orchestras Royal Philharmonic Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Philharmonic Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Producers Marston, Ward
Marston, Ward
Disc: 1
1 Introduction
2 Rien!... En vain j'interroge
3 Ah! Paresseuse fille
4 Mais ce Dieu, que peut-il pour moi?
5 O merveille!...
6 Vin ou biere, biere ou vin
7 O sainte medaille
8 Le veau d 'or est toujours debout
9 Merci de ta chanson !
10 Nous nous retrouverons, mes amis !
11 Ainsi que la brise legere
12 Ne permettrez-vous pas
13 Faites-lui mes aveux
14 C'est ici !
15 Que trouble inconnu me penetre!... Salut! demeure
16 Je voudrais bien savoir... Il etait un roi de Thul
17 Les grands seigneurs... Ah! je ris de me voir
Disc: 2
1 Seigneur Dieu, que vois-je ?
2 Et quoi ! toujours seule ?
3 Il etait temps! Sous le feuillage sombre
4 Il se fait tard, Adieu!
5 O nuit d' amour!... ciel radieux!
6 Tete folle !
7 Seigneur, daignez permettre
8 Deposons les armes
9 Allons, Siebel ! entrons dans la maison!
10 Qu' attendez-vous encore?... Vous qui faites I'end
11 Que voulez-vous, messieurs?
12 par ici, par ici, mes amis!... Ecoute-moi bien, Ma
13 Introduction - La prison
14 Va-t-en
15 Mon coeur est penetre d'epouvante!
16 Oui, c' est toi! je t' aime!
17 Alerte! alerte! ou vous etes perdus!
18 Marguerite!... Pourquoi ce regard
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