Introducing… La damnation de Faust
Find out everything you need to know about our 2019 production of Berlioz's La damnation de Faust.
In this instalment we explore the diabolical delights of Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust.
‘I composed the score with an ease such as I have rarely experienced with any of my other works. I wrote it when and where I could: in coaches, in trains, on steamboats, even in the towns that I visited…’
La damnation de Faust is a genre-defying work by one of classical music’s greatest musical mavericks. Part-opera, part-cantata, Berlioz’s “dramatic legend” is a piece that takes its audience quite literally up to heaven and down to hell – a psychological drama of cinematic scope and ambition set to one of the 19th century’s boldest and most vividly dramatic scores.
Ageing scholar Faust is on the brink of suicide, disillusioned with a life in which he no longer finds meaning. But when Méphistophélès appears, he promises to fulfil Faust’s every earthly desire in exchange for just one thing – Faust’s immortal soul. Faust agrees, but all too soon pleasure turns to pain. The scholar is forced to make an impossible decision: live and condemn the woman he loves to death, or choose his own eternal damnation and save his beloved Marguerite.
Baffling to Berlioz’s contemporaries, Faust is now regarded as a masterpiece – the culmination of the composer’s lifelong fascination with the Faust legend, a work that challenges and reinvents opera just as his rule-breaking Symphonie fantastique did for the symphony.
Why not to miss it:
Just as Faust himself rethinks the rules of society, sacrificing all for sensation and pleasure, so Berlioz’s Faust sets convention aside to create the supreme work of the Romantic imagination, one that demands newer, bigger, more striking sounds from both instruments and voices than ever before. Soloists, chorus and orchestra are all pushed to their technical limits in the composer’s quest for sonic spectacle. No soundtrack is too grand, no canvass too vast for an opera that dares to question the very nature of humanity and love.
Glyndebourne’s debut production of Faust is a rare opportunity to see this extraordinary work in a fully staged production – the perfect way to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.
Great moments to look out for:
I hope you’re not feeling squeamish, because one of the musical highlights of Faust involves both rats and fleas. There’s a really gleeful sense of mischief and naughtiness to Berlioz’s score, which reaches its peak in this sequence of two comic numbers from Part II.
Student Brander entertains the tavern crowd with a lively drinking song ‘The Song of the Rat’ (‘Certain rat, dans une cuisine’) – whose lively, scampering melody and scuttling accompaniment in the strings conjures all too vividly the movements of a rat, which lives a happily life in the kitchen until being poisoned. In a stroke of musical and dramatic brilliance, Berlioz ends this little satire with an elaborate Amen fugue sung by all the students – a sophisticated homage to a very humble subject. It’s a wonderful moment of bathos, silliness sung with an absolutely straight face.
Never to be outdone, incorrigible showman Méphistophélès follows up Brander’s song with his own Song of the Flea (‘Une puce gentille’) – a ballad whose courtly musical beginning and faux-18th-century spirit soon unravel to reveal a vulgar tale of a court infested with fleas.
Cast and creative team:
Following 2018’s Der Rosenkavalier – praised for ‘the sheer quality of…the minutely observed staging’ (The Stage) – Richard Jones returns to direct Glyndebourne’s first ever production of La damnation de Faust. It’s a pairing that promises to bring out the dramatic scope and imaginative extravagance of Berlioz’s score. The production will be conducted by Glyndebourne’s music director Robin Ticciati, a passionate champion of Berlioz’s music. Ticciati also conducted Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict at Festival 2016.
British tenor Allan Clayton (hailed by the press as ‘stellar’ (The Telegraph) and full of ‘slow-burning intensity’ (The Guardian) in 2017’s Hamlet makes his role debut as Faust, the world-weary scholar, with fellow Glyndebourne regular Christopher Purves as his nemesis, the smooth-talking devil Méphistophélès.
French-Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne makes her Glyndebourne debut as Faust’s beloved Marguerite, with rising star Ashley Riches in the cameo role of Brander.
Photos by Richard Hubert Smith
If you would like to hear about ways in which you can support this production (from £5,000) please contact the Development team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image credits: La damnation de Faust header, Painted collage by Shadric Toop | Hector Berlioz, photo by Pierre Petit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Julie Boulianne photo by Julien Faugère | Allan Clayton in Hamlet, Festival 2017, photo by Richard Hubert Smith