Damnation de Faust


La Damnation de Faust

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Hector Berlioz

In this new production of Berlioz's légende dramatique, director Alvis Hermanis grapples with the complexity of bringing Faust to modern audiences, asking us to identify the Faust of our times. Seeing a modern equivalent to Faust's intellectual rigor in the fascinating mind of Stephen Hawking, Hermanis sets Berlioz's work on the futuristic eve of mankind's first settlement on Mars.

FraCinema + Rising Alternative + Opéra de Paris + Fondation Orange

Opera in 4 acts
Sung in French

Music by Hector Berlioz
Poem by Hector Berlioz and Almire Gandonnière, after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Translated by Gérard de Nerval

Opera de Paris (Opéra Bastille)
Recorded December 2015
Presented by Alain Duault

Approximate Running Time: 2h 20min (140 min)

Approximate Running Time by Act:
Act I & II: 70 min
30 min intermission
Act III & IV: 70 min


Conductor ~ Philippe Jordan
Director & Sets ~ Alvis Hermanis
Costumes ~ Christine Neumeister
Lighting ~ Gleb Filshtinsky
Vidéo ~ Katrina Neiburga
Chorégraphie ~ Alla Sigalova
Choir Director ~ José Luis Basso
Film Director ~ Louise Narboni


Faust ~ Jonas Kaufmann
Marguerite ~ Sophie Koch
Méphistophélès ~ Bryn Terfel
Brander ~ Edwin Crossley-Mercer
Voix celeste ~ Sophie Claisse

Maitrise des Hauts-de-Seine / Children Choir of the Opéra National de Paris
Orchestra and Choir of the Opéra National de Paris

“This marvelous book fascinated me from the very beginning. I could not put it down. I read it incessantly, during meals, in the theatre, in the street, everywhere.” And so it was, following the composer’s discovery of Faust Part One in 1828 that Goethe joined Virgil and Shakespeare to form Berlioz's trinity.

Without taking the time to catch his breath, he set the verse passages of Gerard de Nerval’s translation to music and published them under the title
Huit scènes de Faust. Eighteen years later, during his travels “in Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Silesia” he decided to revise and develop the material into La Damnation de Faust, whereupon the same feverish urge took hold of him: “Once underway, I wrote the missing verses as the musical ideas came to me. I composed the score when and where I could – in the carriage, on the train, on steam boats”.

As if swept away by “the longing of too vast a heart and a soul thirsting for elusive happiness”, Berlioz became one with his creation. The voice that invokes “immense, impenetrable and proud nature” is entirely his own, its extraordinary breadth transcending traditional forms to become a symphonic and operatic dream. Bringing out the dramatic force of this
légende dramatique is a constant challenge that stage director Alvis Hermanis has willingly accepted. Philippe Jordan conducts the first installment of a Berlioz cycle which is to continue over several seasons. It also marks the return of Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel to the Paris Opera.

Act I

The aging scholar Faust contemplates the renewal of nature. Hearing peasants sing and dance, he realizes that their simple happiness is something he will never experience. An army marches past in the distance. Faust doesn't understand why the soldiers are so enthusiastic about glory and fame.

Act II

Depressed, Faust has returned to his study. Even the search for wisdom can no longer inspire him. Tired of life, he is about to commit suicide when the sound of church bells and an Easter hymn remind him of his youth, when he still had faith in religion. Suddenly Méphistophélès appears, ironically commenting on Faust's apparent conversion. He offers to take him on a journey, promising him the restoration of his youth, knowledge, and the fulfillment of all his wishes. Faust accepts.

Méphistophélès and Faust arrive at Auerbach's tavern in Leipzig, where Brander, a student, sings a song about a rat whose high life in a kitchen is ended by a dose of poison. The other guests offer an ironic "Amen," and Méphistophélès continues with another song about a flea that brings his relatives to infest a whole royal court. Disgusted by the vulgarity of it all, Faust demands to be taken somewhere else.

On a meadow by the Elbe, Méphistophélès shows Faust a dream vision of a beautiful woman named Marguerite, causing Faust to fall in love with her. He calls out her name, and Méphistophélès promises to lead Faust to her. Together with a group of students and soldiers, they enter the town where she lives.


Faust and Méphistophélès hide in Marguerite's room. Faust feels that he will find in her his ideal of a pure and innocent woman. Marguerite enters and sings a ballad about the King of Thule, who always remained sadly faithful to his lost love. Méphistophélès summons spirits to enchant and deceive the girl and sings a sarcastic serenade outside her window, predicting her loss of innocence. When the spirits have vanished, Faust steps forward. Marguerite admits that she has dreamed of him, just as he has dreamed of her, and they declare their love for each other. Just then, Méphistophélès bursts in, warning them that the girl's reputation must be saved: the neighbors have learned that there is a man in Marguerite's room and have called her mother to the scene. After a hasty goodbye, Faust and Méphistophélès escape.

Act IV

Faust has seduced then abandoned Marguerite, who still awaits his return. She can hear soldiers and students in the distance, which reminds her of the night Faust first came to her house. But this time he is not among them.

Faust calls upon nature to cure him of his world-weariness. Méphistophélès appears and tells him that Marguerite is in prison. She has accidentally given her mother too much of a sleeping potion, killing the old woman, and will be hanged the next day. Faust panics, but Méphistophélès claims he can save her—if Faust relinquishes his soul to him. Unable to think of anything but saving Marguerite, Faust agrees. The two ride off on a pair of black horses.

Thinking they are on their way to Marguerite, Faust becomes terrified when he sees demonic apparitions. The landscape becomes more and more horrible and grotesque, and Faust finally realizes that Méphistophélès has taken him directly into hell. Demons and damned spirits greet Méphistophélès in a mysterious infernal language and welcome Faust among them.

Hell has fallen silent after Faust's arrival—the torment he suffers is unspeakable. Marguerite is saved and welcomed into heaven.

Faust: a scientist thirsting for knowledge. On the threshold
of old age, he realizes the vanity of his own existence and
contemplates suicide.

Mephistopheles: a cynical demon serving Lucifer. He
promises to bring Faust all the pleasures of the universe
in exchange for his soul.

Marguerite: a young girl seduced and then abandoned by Faust. She is the personifi cation of faith and innocence.

Brander: a drinker at Auerbach’s Cellar.
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