Welcome to Lyric Unlimited’s Teachers Resources for Faust. This is your all-access pass to the world of opera and your insider’s guide to Lyric’s incredible performances. Scroll down to access the following resources to help you prepare your students for your trip to Lyric:
Opera Prep ClassCost: $175 per 45-minute presentation
Request a Lyric teaching artist to visit your classroom and engage your students with the important themes, musical highlights, and production elements of the opera. This program is for classes attending La bohème, Cendrillon, Elektra, and/or La traviata.
You can request this program on the ticket order form.
Act 2: “Avant de quitter ces lieux” (“Before leaving this place”) English Translation Sung by Valentin
Valentin, a soldier, has been called off to war. He is not worried about what will happen to him in battle, but he is concerned for the wellbeing of his sister, Marguerite, while he is away (or if he dies). This aria is a prayer of protection for her.
Things to listen for:
• As Valentin is asking for protection for his sister, his melody is played by the flute.
• At end of the excerpt when Valentin sings “protéger de tout danger” (protect from danger), each syllable is separated. The string section separates their notes, too. (This is the first rest in the aria for the violins and violas!) Why do you think Gounod made this melodic change?
Act 2: "Le veau d'or est toujours debout!" (“The calf of gold is still standing!” or The Song of the Golden Calf) English Translation Sung by Mèphistophélès
Appearing in the midst of a celebration, Mèphistophélès provides wine to the crowd and sings a song about greed and how men are so susceptible to it. The crowd joins him in singing as he declares that Satan is the one controlling it all.
Things to listen for:
• The aria opens with a repeated 5-note figure in the woodwinds and stings. These high and fast notes are meant to mimic the flickering flames of hell. This pattern returns when Mèphistophélès sings about Satan.
• 35 seconds into the excerpt, the melody and accompaniment becomes longer and hymn-like. It sounds very similar to a well-known Christmas carol. Can you identify it? Why would a demon sing in this manner?
Act 3: "Salut! Demeure Chaste Et Pure..." (“Hail, dwelling chaste and pure”) English Translation Sung by Faust
As Faust approaches Marguerite's house, he is struck by the pure, humble nature of dwelling and the innocence of the woman who lives inside.
Things to listen for:
• There is a violin “countermelody” that interacts with Faust’s melody. Listen for how this “countermelody” both finishes and leads into each phrase Faust sings.
• In the second part of the aria, as Faust thanks nature for Marguerite, he refers to her as a child. This hints to the fact that despite his youthful look, Faust remains an old man inside.
Act 3: "Ah, je ris de me voir" (“Ah, I laugh to see myself” or The Jewel Song) English Translation Sung by Marguerite
Faust and Mèphistophélès have left a box of jewels at Marguerite’s door. She has never had jewelry before and, at once, tries them on. As she looks at herself in the mirror, she imagines that others do not recognize her and believe that she is a princess.
Things to listen for:
• When Marguerite asks herself who is in the mirror (“Est-ce toi”), the notes are ascending (with a sense of anticipation). When she replies that it is not Marguerite (“ce n'est plus toi!”), the notes descend (with a sight sense of sadness).
• Marguerite later sings that the woman in the mirror is a princess (“la fille d'un roi”), and her music ascends again, but in a scalar fashion. The flutes continue the scale after her, and don’t descend.
Act 4: "Deposons les armes" (“Let's lay down our weapons!” or The Soldiers' Chorus) English Translation Sung by the chorus
Valentin's company is returning from war. They are glad to be able to go home to their mothers and sisters.
Things to listen for:
• This piece starts with the orchestra playing softly with few instruments. As the piece progresses, more instruments are added and the orchestra plays louder. It sounds as if the orchestra is in the distance and is marching closer and closer.
• When the chorus enters, they sing fortissimo (Italian for loudly), and soon thereafter they sing softly and with more expression. Why is there this stylistic change?
Studer, Leech, Van Dam, Hampson, cond. Rizzi. (Warner)
Music from Faust provided through generous arrangement with Warner Classics, Official Education and Promotion Music Provider for Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Charles Gounodb. Paris, France, June 17, 1818; d. St. Cloud, France, October 18, 1893
Charles Gounod (sharl goo-NOH) was an atypical candidate for theatrical composition, as he came from generations of silversmiths and painters rather than musicians. Something of a child prodigy (like his idol, Mozart), he was first taught by his domineering mother, who was gifted at both art and music. At 21, he won the coveted Prix de Rome on his second try, but by the time he completed the requisite two-years of study in Rome, he had yet to produce anything that could be considered a masterpiece. Part of his problem was his facility at drawing; his master, the great French painter Ingres, encouraged him to take a second Rome prize in painting. If anything, Gounod was simply too good at too many things, a trait that would dog his entire career.
Gounod’s personality was dominated by mystical Catholicism and the need to please everyone, especially women. He was prey to frequent attacks of severe guilty religious conscience, psychosomatic illnesses, and even nervous breakdowns over his relationships and actions. But he was praised for his personal charm, even, at least initially, by those who later became bitter foes. Throughout his life he wavered between the sacred and the secular, even briefly contemplating the priesthood. Gounod eventually married Anna Zimmermann, the daughter of his piano teacher at the Paris Conservatory. The two poles of his personal life were summed up by malicious friends who referred to him as a “philandering monk.”
Faust (1859) was Gounod’s first operatic success, though it took a few years to achieve universal popularity. It has since been performed over 2,000 times at the Paris Opéra alone. His opera, Roméo et Juliette (1867) was his only unqualified instant success, but Faust remains more popular today. By the end of his career, Gounod had become something of a French national treasure, reaping numerous honorary degrees and positions and finally dying peacefully while reading through the orchestral score of his final work, appropriately enough—a requiem.
Jules Barbier (JULE bahr-be-AY)
b. Paris, March 8, 1825
d. Paris, January 16, 1901
Michel Carré (mee-SHELL cah-RAY)
b. Besançon, October 21, 1822
d. Paris, June 27, 1872
Jules Barbier and Michel Carré began working with Gounod in 1858. The two, and then after Carré’s death Barbier by himself, would remain Gounod’s primary partners throughout his operatic endeavors. In total, the three collaborated on seven operas, including Faust.
Carré had come to Paris in his late teens from Besançon with the intention of becoming a painter, but he soon switched to a literary path. After producing a verse collection in 1842, he turned to the theater, then found his niche in collaborations. He worked on a variety of plays and librettos with others before teaming up with the man with whom he would create lasting works, Jules Barbier.
Parisian by birth, Barbier focused early on the theater, starting in his teens with light comic fare. As his art developed he produced more substantial pieces, almost always working with a partner. Collaborations were the common practice of the period, possibly because it took the energy and patience of more than one to meet the demands of stars and theater impresarios, who tended to view writers as their servants.
The style of the two men reflected the sensibility of their place and time. Though the pair worked on material from some of the greatest writers, including Goethe, Shakespeare, Molière, La Fontaine, and Pascal, they tended to filter out the more complex aspects of their sources. They were solid craftsmen who understood Parisian tastes and shaped their material accordingly. Refinement was highly valued, and a heavy emphasis on sentiment (sometimes dissolving into the sentimental) tended to replace deeper emotional currents. Starting with Faust, and Roméo et Juliette eight years later, the two men carved out a significant place in the operatic canon.