La damnation de Faust

Légende dramatique in four parts by Hector Berlioz Text by Hector Berlioz based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the translation by Gérard de Nerval




Our production follows the trajectory of German art and history from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. PART 1 Méphistophélès introduces himself: he will be puppet-master for the evening. The figure of a man – Faust – moves through the forest. He is carrying a heavy burden. Sensing the return of spring, he becomes absorbed by the wonders of Nature. His solitude is interrupted and he retreats to higher ground where he revels in a glorious sunset before falling asleep. Workers returning from the fields disturb his rest. They enjoy a fair at which a May Queen is borne in. The crowd drags Faust down from his vantage point and forces him to be the May Queen’s knight. Humiliated by their antics, he manages to get away. Dawn breaks. A cavalry parade heralds the appearance of the crowned heads of Europe. During an elegant tea party, old alliances are broken and new ones formed as the rulers carve up the map of the world between them. The mounting tension leads to a war in which millions die. PART 2 Faust attempts to retreat from the chaos of the carnage. He picks his way across the battlefield. Trapped in his own despair, he resolves to commit suicide. Méphistophélès, who has been watching him, intervenes: more fun can be had by keeping Faust alive. Méphistophélès conjurors up a ruined church now serving as an army field hospital, where Faust is called upon to assist in surgical operations which results in his discovering a new determination to live. Méphistophélès offers to rescue Faust from his drab and cerebral existence by showing him real life and fulfilling his most secret dreams. Faust accepts. Méphistophélès and Faust enter a Bierkeller in the Weimar Republic. Brander sings an anti-Bolshevik diatribe and it becomes clear that he and his fellow revellers are in fact Nazi Brown Shirts. Méphistophélès responds with his own satiric, anti-Semitic cabaret number. When a Jew is beaten up, Faust leaves in disgust and demands that Méphistophélès returns him home. Méphistophélès lulls Faust to sleep. When Faust awakes he finds himself at an elegant cocktail party among the Nazi high command. He catches sight of a beautiful young woman – is it Marguerite? Before he can approach her, a Wagnerian entertainment is staged for the guests. The crowd serenades Faust and he drifts off to sleep dreaming only of Marguerite. He demands that Méphistophélès takes him to her. Méphistophélès warns Faust that he must obey his instructions if he wants her for his own. Faust is swept up by a group of army recruits as Germany celebrates its growing power and pride. PART 3 Méphistophélès has brought Faust to where Marguerite lives. Faust revels in the heady atmosphere of her apartment. When Marguerite returns, Faust hides. Entranced by the image of a soldier on the billboard opposite, Marguerite sings the ballad of the King of Thule. Faust appears beside her and they become lovers. Meanwhile, the events of Kristallnacht take place outside. When Nazi storm troopers raid the apartment block, Méphistophélès bundles Faust out of the building; Marguerite, however, is arrested. PART 4 Groups of Jews sit among piles of luggage, awaiting transportation. Marguerite is among them. Everyone is loaded onto a goods train. Still restless and unsatisfied, Faust seeks bitter solace in the power and danger of Nature. Méphistophélès tells Faust that Marguerite has been imprisoned. She can be saved, but only if Faust promises to serve him. Faust agrees and they immediately set off, not to rescue Marguerite as Faust believes, but for the abyss of Hell where Méphistophélès is received in triumph. In a final tableau, Marguerite’s soul is received in Heaven.