November 03, 2013
“Nothing” is the first word of this opera. It is the conclusion that Faust draws from his life so far. He has lived his life, come to know the world within his reach; only emptiness is left to him. His life has been uneventful and uninteresting, futile and wasted. To be young again, to be able to abandon himself to pleasure once again! This is now his greatest wish. The devil appears and promises to deliver precisely that if Faust gives him his soul in return. The contract is signed, and Faust hurls himself into a passionate affair with Marguerite, whose innocence and naïveté attract him as much as her origins in the lower class, which is exotic in his eyes. However, when she becomes pregnant, he prefers to leave her. The abandoned girl kills the child and is executed. Charles Gounod had contemplated making an opera out of Goethe’s Faust since his youth. However, the French Faust has only little in common with his German namesake. It is not the desire to “recognise what holds the world together deep inside,” but sheer hedonism that motivates him to – literally – walk over dead bodies, even more cold-bloodedly than Goethe’s hero. Musicologists have scornfully turned up their noses at this “desecration” of the great poet. However, they have overlooked the fact that Gounod did not even attempt to appropriate Goethe’s work in all its complexity. The composer uses the very freely adapted Gretchen tragedy as the material for a precise portrait of his time – the Second Empire, with its unscrupulously hedonistic attitudes. A portrait that in many ways is astonishingly similar to our own time. Seen from this perspective, Gounod’s most successful opera offers us considerably more than a trivial, sentimental love story: an enlightening and alarming look in the mirror. Amanda Majeski will be heard as Marguerite at Zurich Opera House for the first time, while our ensemble member Pavol Breslik will be giving his role début as Faust.