Monday, April 11, 2011

10 Interesting Facts About Faust

A few weeks ago Dr. Nic shared with us 10 interesting things about Der Rosenkavalier, born out of an agonizing ride in the elevator where we stopped on every floor from the subterranean parking garage to the 18th floor.

Luckily we didn't have to recreate that experience to get 10 interesting facts about Faust...

1. There is a well-known Christmas carol hidden in Méphistophélès’ first aria, “Le veau d’or”, often called the “Golden Calf aria”.

2. The best known tune from Faust, Valentin’s aria “Avant de quitter”, was added in 1864, a couple of years after the premiere of the opera (1859) for performances in London. It was sung in English at those performances and the French version followed later.

3. Although the story of Faust is based on Goethe’s original verse play (1806), it only covers Part I of the poet’s version, avoiding the more philosophical depths of Part II.

4. The source of the story of Faust was an actual person, a Doctor Johann Georg Faustus who lived in the 16th century. The legend of his pact with the devil became popular through ballads and puppet plays, much like the original source of the Don Juan story in Spain. (Mozart’s Don Giovanni.)

5. The premiere of Faust at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris utilized spoken dialogue between the musical ‘numbers’. The dialogue was set to music by the composer for performances in other cities the following year.

6. A scene which you will almost never see in a performance of Faust is the Walpurgisnacht scene in which Méphistophélès takes Faust to a witches’ Sabbath, he meets some of the most beautiful women of history, sees a ballet and sings a drinking song. The scene is usually cut in order to expedite the dénouement.

7. Once upon a time Faust was among the top 3 or 4 operas in popularity. It now ranks #18 in Opera America’s list of most-performed operas in the U.S. Some lists, however, have it hovering between #20 and #25.

8. Faust opened the Metropolitan Opera house in 1883. It was sung in Italian, not French.

9. Gounod almost became a priest. He was very pious in his youth, and came under the influence of the Society of St. Sulpice in Paris, a religious order.

10. The first Marguerite was Caroline Carvalho, the wife of Léon Carvalho, the director or intendant of the Théâtre Lyrique where the opera was premiered.

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