In five acts by CHARLES GOUNOD.
The subject of this piece is taken from the first part of Goethe's
Faust, a celebrated old Doctor, is consumed by an insatiable thirst for
knowledge, but, having already lived through a long life devoted to the
acquirement of learning and to hard work as a scholar, without having
hunger appreciably relieved, is dissatisfied and in his
disappointment wishes to be released from this life, which has grown to
be a burden to him. At this moment Mephistopheles, the incarnation of
the Evil One, appears and persuades him to try life in a new shape.
The old and learned Doctor has only known it in theory, Mephisto will
now show it to him in practice and in all the splendor of youth and
freshness. Faust agrees, and Mephisto endows him with youth and
beauty. In this guise he sees earth anew. It is Easter-time, when all
is budding and aglow with freshness and young life and on such a bright
spring-day he first sees Margaretha and at once offers her his arm.
But this lovely maiden, pure and innocent, and well guarded by a
jealous brother, named Valentin, refuses his company somewhat
sharply.--Nevertheless she cannot help seeing the grace and good
bearing of the fine cavalier, and the simple village-maiden is inwardly
pleased with his flattery. A bad fate wills it, that her brother
Valentin, who is a soldier, has to leave on active service and
after giving many good advices and warnings for his beautiful sister's
wellfare he goes and so Mephisto is able to introduce Faust to the
unprotected girl by means of a message, which he is supposed to have
received for an old aunt of Margaretha's "Frau Marthe Schwertlein".
This old gossip, hearing from Mephisto that her husband has been killed
in battle, lends a willing ear to the flatteries of the cunning Devil;
and Margaretha is left to Faust, who wins her by his love and easy
manners. She is only a simple maiden, knowing nothing of the world's
ways and wiles, and she accepts her lover's precious gifts with
By and bye, her brother Valentin returns victorious from the war, but
alas! too late! He challenges his sister's seducer; Mephisto however
directs Faust's sword, and the faithful brother is much against Faust's
own will slain, cursing his sister with his last breath.
Now Margaretha awakes to the awful reality of her situation and she
shrinks from her brother's murderer. Everybody shuns her, and she
finds herself alone and forsaken. In despair she seeks refuge in
church, but her own conscience is not silenced; it accuses her more
loudly than all the pious songs and prayers. Persecuted by evil
spirits, forsaken and forlorn, Margaretha's reason gives way, and she
drowns her new-born child.
Meanwhile Mephisto has done everything to stifle in Faust the pangs of
conscience. Faust never wills the evil, he loves Margaretha
sincerely, but the bad spirit urges him onward. He shows him all the
joys and splendors of earth, and antiquity in its most perfect form in
the person of Helena, but in the midst of all his orgies Faust sees
Margaretha. He beholds her, pale, unlike her former self, in the white
dress of the condemned, with a blood-red circle round the delicate
neck. Then he knows no rest, he feels that she is in danger, and he
bids Mephisto save her.
Margaretha has actually been thrown into prison for her deed of madness
and now the executioner's axe awaits her. She sits on the damp straw,
rocking a bundle, which she takes for her baby, and across her poor
wrecked brain there flit once more pictures of all the scenes of her
short-lived happiness. Then Faust enters with Mephisto, and tries to
persuade her to escape with them. But she instinctively shrinks from
her lover, loudly imploring God's and the Saint's pardon. God has
mercy on her, for, just as the bells are tolling for her execution; she
expires, and her soul is carried to Heaven by angels, there to pray for
her erring lover. Mephisto disappears into the earth.