[Met Performance] CID:38100
New production / United States Stage Premiere
La Damnation de Faust {4} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/7/1906.
 (United States Stage Premiere)
(Debut: Ballet Aerien-Heidenreich
Review / Chapter: La Damnation de Faust|Argument)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 7, 1906
United States Stage Premiere
New production


LA DAMNATION DE FAUST {4}
Berlioz-Berlioz/Gandonnière

Faust...................Charles Rousselière
Marguerite..............Geraldine Farrar
Méphistophélès..........Pol Plançon
Brander.................Victor Chalmin [Debut]
Dance...................Ballet Aerien-Heidenreich [Debut]

Conductor...............Arturo Vigna

Director................Eugène Dufriche
Set Designer............Burghart & Co.
Costume Designer........Blaschke & Cie

La Damnation de Faust received six performances this season.

[The dramatic scheme for this production was based on the version by Raoul Gunsbourg.]


Unsigned review in The New York Times (Richard Aldrich?)

Another new production was made at the Metropolitan Opera House last evening, the second within the week, being an arrangement for the operatic stage of Hector Berlioz's "dramatic legend," The Damnation of Faust." It is an elaborate scenic production, and the weight is put more upon the stage pictures and pageantry than upon any progression of dramatic action, of which indeed it has but the slightest. It enlisted the services of three of the new members of the company, Mr. Rousseliere as Faust, Miss Geraldine Farrar as Marguerite, and Mr. Chalmin as Brander. Mr. Pol Plançon returned to the character of Mephistopheles that he has illustrated in other connections. The performance was observed by a large but rather undemonstrative audience and was excellent in most of its features, especially the spectacular ones.

"The Damnation of Faust" has long been known in New York in the form in which the composer shaped it for concert performances. It was, indeed, the occasion of one of the most notable episodes in the musical annals of New York in 1880. In that season it was given for the first time in America by the old Symphonic Society under Dr. Leopold Damrosch's direction with such brilliancy as to create a popular furore almost without precedent in New York up to that time. In these days it is hard enough to dragoon an audience in to hear any choral work except "The Messiah," but so great an interest was aroused to "The Damnation of Faust" as it was then given that it had about six performances in that and several more in the immediately following season. Subsequent performances have not been many: the last was by the Oratorio Society in 1888. The idea of arranging the work for production on the stage is due to Raoul Gunsbourg, the ingenious manager of the opera house at Monte Carlo, where he first gave it in this form in 1883. Jean de Reszke was at that time the Faust. In 1903 this version was brought to Paris and was produced as part of the honor paid the composer at the hundredth anniversary of his birth with great splendor at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, with Calvé as Marguerite, Mr. Alvarez as Faust and Mr. Renaud, who is now singing in New York at the Manhattan Opera House, as Mephistopheles.

As it stands Berlioz's work was never intended for dramatic representation, and it is distinctly not dramatic. It has no dramatic development and gives no consecutive representation of the dramatic course of Goethe's poem upon which it is of course based. Still less does it make out of it a pretty and tragic love story like Gounod's opera on the same subject, which it antedates by thirteen years. It is much more to be compared with Boito's "Mefistofele," in that it gives a musical interpretation of a succession of scenes from the German poem that imply a previous knowledge of the original for their understanding and are without logical dramatic significance. Berlioz, in fact, snipped out of Goethe's poem various episodes which struck him especially and which he set to music; these episodes were translated by different people, some of them by himself, and he composed the music for them at different times and places. He treated them without any very scrupulous regard for Goethe's text. Thus the only reason why the first scene is placed in Hungary is that Berlioz had recently made an orchestral setting of the Rakoczy march which pleased the people of Budapest mightily when he played it there; and he wanted to use it. There is nothing about Faust's reveries in Hungary in Goethe, nor about any Hungarian army.

The music is so familiar to music lovers that it needs no discussion at this day. It is Berlioz at his best, probably; and it embodies more creative imagination, more specifically musical inventiveness than any other of his compositions. There is much of his dreary triteness, his lack of strong musical ideas in the course of the work, but there are also some beautiful and striking musical ideas. The Easter hymn is effective; the students' songs in Auerbach's cellar, including what Mephistopheles call the "Learned joke" of the fugue, have not much of the moist cheer of the place to them though full of animation. Mephistopheles's mocking and ironical music, the flea song, and the serenade to Marguerite are favorite numbers, and the dance of the sylphs and of the "will-o'-the-wisps" has long been among the moat popular of orchestral pieces. Marguerite's "King of Thule" song is full of atmosphere and the suggestion of her perturbed spirit; and there is charm in her romance in the fifth act. But these and a few others are as oases in long and dreary stretches of inexpressive music, in which the composer seems vainly struggling to lay hold of tangible ideas.

The result of last evening's performance goes to show that the music undoubtedly gains by a pictorial setting. Whatever Berlioz's musical inventiveness may have been, he had a riotous pictorial imagination. His score is full of scenic suggestions and indications that are addressed to the listener's mental vision. The thoughts lay near to carry these out by the resources of stage setting and stage illusion and the vividness of Berlioz's imagination is repeatedly attested by the success of the stags pictures. The passing of the soldiers to the strains of the Rakoczy march is a fine stage pageant. The scene of the Auerbach cellar has all the richness and variety of a picture by Teniers.

Nothing more charming could be imagined than the dance of the sylphs, the "aerial ballet" which matches for the eye the ethereal grace of music that has seemed almost too fragile for a stage manager to meddle with. The minuet of the "will-o'-the-wisps" gives occasion for another pretty stage effect. In the setting for scene, however, that a difficulty has been encountered, met in some sort by showing Marguerite's chamber on the street in Nuremberg with the front wall removed. Another difficulty arises in the vision of Faust that Mephistopheles evokes for her and in which, for the purposes of the stage, she is shown in a sort of sleep-walking trance, coming out upon the street; and being alternately moved by the sight of Faust and the glowing cross over the church door. It is an awkward and impoetical device. The Brocken scene, the ride to hell, the apotheosis of Marguerite are all matters which the stage carpenter takes possession of as a matter of course, but they made the least appeal to the imaginative of anything in the performance.

Mr. Rousseliere gave an impassioned performance of Faust, in many passages of superb vigor and power; but there were poor moments in his singing. Miss Farrar as Marguerite was not quite so good in voice as she was at her first appearance here, but her portrayal was ingenuous and pathetic. The cynical and polished diabolism of Mephistopheles is as second nature to Mr. Plançon, and he added in this part a striking and thoroughly artistic characterization to his gallery. Mr. Chalmin had but one solo, the "rat" song in the carousing scene, but he did it well. The chorus was often at odds with the pit, and Mr. Vigna, while he conducted with much zeal and obtained some excellent effects in Berlioz's characteristic orchestration, played some of the accompaniments poorly and did not get all the stirring effect of the Rakoczy march.


ARGUMENT FROM THE OFFICIAL LIBRETTO.

The operatic version of "The Damnation of Faust" was first produced at Monte Carlo in 1893 and in Paris not until 1903 at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt. The story in some few respects follows Goethe's poem but in general is essentially different. The first scene shows Dr. Faust as an old man poring over his musty volumes regretting his youth. He listens to the sounds of the village gayety with comparative indifference but when he witnesses the martial display, watches the soldiers preparing for war and hears the resounding splendor of the Hungarian March, he for a moment is seized with patriotic ardor which soon gives way again to depression and melancholy.

In the second act when about to end it all with poison Faust is diverted from his purpose by the sight of the church and the musical fervor of the devotees. While under this influence Mephistopheles, who has come under the form of a dog, appears on the scene and offers to console the unhappy doctor by means of pleasure. Faust accepts but without pledging himself to anything. They depart.

The third act introduces the pair in a low den where drunken sots indulge in vile revelry. But this soon disgusts Faust who asks Mephistopheles if it is the best he can offer him in the way of pleasure. Cannot he give him youth-that is best of all. Mephistopheles agrees. In the third act the new youthful Faust watched over by his demon has a dream in which the image of Marguerite appears to him. He calls to her. Mephistopheles congratulates him that the charm begins to operate, at the same time surrounding his victim with all the seductions of a dance of sylphs.

The fourth act opens with a scene showing the chamber of Marguerite and outside a street of the town and the facade of a church. Soldiers and students appear and sing in chorus. As they finish Mephistopheles and Faust enter. Mephistopheles points out Marguerite's house and Faust enters and goes to the garden at rear. Marguerite enters and after the ballad of the King of Thule falls asleep and has a dream which is acted. She sees herself in the street drawn by a demon power. She tries to get to the church to pray but it is prevented. The image of Faust appears and Marguerite is irresistibly impressed. Faust disappears and she falls fainting. The real Marguerite awakes to find Faust coming to her from the garden. Their love scene ensues and is after a tune interrupted by Mephistopheles who comes to tell them that the crowd wonders at the presence of a man in Marguerite's house at such an hour. They are coming to find out what it all means and are now at the door. Marguerite is frightened and urges Faust to go as the chorus of neighbors is heard in the street. A trio closes the act and Faust is supposed to escape by the garden.

A certain period is supposed to elapse before the fifth and the final act. Marguerite is in her room alone lamenting that despite her love Faust collies no more. The soldiers and students are heard in the distance. The scene changes to a forest scene where Faust is alone again voicing his disgust with life. Mephistopheles comes to tell him that Marguerite is condemned but he can save her from the scaffold if Faust will sign the pact with him. Faust does so and they start together on their wild ride to the inferno. This is depicted musically and pictorially ending in their being engulfed in the abyss. A representation of hell is seen and, immediately after, the roofs and spires of a town. Angels are seen descending, and soon after they reascend bearing the body of Marguerite to Heaven.



Review / Chapter: La Damnation de Faust/Argument



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