It may be one of the most popular, tuneful and sophisticated operas ever composed. Still, like the ancient story that inspired it, Charles Gounod's Faust thrives on some pretty basic elements.
There's a grumpy old man, facing his end and yearning to reclaim his squandered youth. There's a charismatic stranger, hawking a sure formula for health and happiness — a formula that includes a gorgeous young woman, great wealth and boozy good times. And, to keep the good times in perspective, Gounod also throws in a strong dose of religious piety.
All of that is pulled together in a tale that's as old as they come, though its greatest fame came in the 19th-century drama by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It's the story of a deal with the devil — of the man who sells his immortal soul for the sake of mortal pleasures.
Gounod's Faust combines some of the darker elements of Goethe's drama with a less weighty French play by Michel Carre, who also contributed to the opera's libretto. At its premiere, in 1859, many considered the opera difficult to comprehend. Since then, it has been widely recognized as the finest work by one of opera's most naturally gifted composers.
On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents a production from Houston Grand Opera, with bass Samuel Ramey — a man who specializes in devilish roles — starring as Mephistopheles. Tenor William Burden takes the complex title role, with the striking Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri as Marguerite.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.