Berlioz’s opera The Damnation of Faust premiered in 1846 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, and it seems to carry all the ambiguities of an era split between rationalist thinking and religious feelings of culpability. Inspired by Gérard de Nerval’s French translation of Goethe’s Faust, Berlioz sublimated the archetypal story of Faust’s tentations, writing a “dramatic legend,” as he called it. Often performed as an opera, sometimes as a concert, this work by Berlioz witnessed a mixed reception: its first representation was a total failure, provoking the ruin of its author. But on the advice of his friend Balzac, the French writer, Berlioz directed his opera abroad and it was an immediate success! The last works of the play seem to echo the composer’s biography and they invite the public to join Faust, Méphistophélès, and Marguerite in their adventures: “Don’t lose your hope/And smile at happiness!/Come, Marguerite!/Come! Come! Come!” (“Conserve l'espérance/Et souris au bonheur!/Viens, Margarita!/Viens! Viens! Viens!”).
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The greatest artists of our time perform Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, dramatic legend in four parts, Op. 24 on medici.tv, the best classical streaming platform
There is something irresistible about the myth of Faust, like the feeling of vertigo when staring into the void. Is it Faust’s insatiable desire for knowledge? The terrifying idea of a pact with the devil? The image of eternal desire incarnated in the character of Marguerite? The mythical (and mystic) meaning of Faust's story does not cease to amaze. In fact, in the musical world alone (without quoting any literary adaptations), Faust has inspired many different composers. There is Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, but we could also mention: Meyer Lutz’s Méphistophélès, Faust et Marguerite (1855), Charles Gounod’s Faust (1859), Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele (1868), Klauss Mann’s Mephisto (1936), Franz Liszt’s Mephisto-Walzer (1859-1885), and we could go on! Perhaps the temptations of the devilish Méphistophélès kindled the composer’s curiosity as much as artists who personally knew the dilemma of Faust… Perhaps, for Berlioz, composing a work such as The Damnation of Faust was an opportunity to ask his public: and you, would you sell your soul to the devil? Let some supernaturally skilled interpreters surprise you on medici.tv, where you can find some of the best interpretations of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, dramatic legend in four parts, Op. 24!