On stage and on film, the captivating story of the demonic Faust has captured the imagination of audiences around the world and inspired artistic and cultural works for over four centuries.
The classic legend of Faust seems to have been based on an actual character, Johann Georg Faust who lived in Germany around 1480 – 1540.
The story of this itinerant alchemist, astrologer and magician of the German Renaissance is told in Christopher Marlowe’s powerful 1588 play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (pictured) and quickly accrued legends of its own.
It is said that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance, ‘to the great amazement of both the actors and spectators’, a sight that was said to have driven some spectators mad!
Faust has inspired countless artistic works including a ballet by Jules Perrot, a song by Beethoven, an overture by Wagner, and no less than 18 operas by composers from Berlioz to Stravinsky. Here are some of our favourites:
An astonishing ‘three colour technique’ photograph of Feodor Chaliapin as the demonic Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust by the pioneering Russian chemist and photographer, Prokudin-Gorsky who travelled the Russian Empire recording its many aspects.
Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust is slightly chaotic but among his most moving works.
Written between 1844 and 1853 for SATB chorus, boys’ chorus, orchestra, and some solo parts, the composer was never to see the work performed in its entirety.
The “légende dramatique” La Damnation de Faust of 1846 by Hector Berlioz was never designed as an opera. Berlioz conceded that the production techniques of his time were not up to the task of bringing the work to dramatic life.
Pictured here are Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel singing La Damnation de Faust.
The 1967 film Doctor Faustus starring Richard Burton with Elizabeth Taylor as Helen of Troy. One British critic called this classic tale of good and evil ‘a sad example of university drama at its worst’.
There is even a dark germanic 2013 Netflix version transplanted to the 19th century which conjures up a unique and phantasmagoric vision of the Faustian legend. It has been described as ‘morbid but upbeat, grim yet rapturous.’
The version of the legend by the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is a hybrid between a play and an extended poem. Published in 1808, it is this epic drama which forms the basis of the libretto in Gounod’s wonderful opera. Critics still rate this as the most successful interpretation of this extraordinary tale in which good eventually triumphs over evil.
Don’t miss Dave Key-Pugh’s unique interpretation of this fantastic work in Bath Opera’s next production of Gounod’s Faust…
Bath Opera: Gounod’s Faust
Faust: Robert Felstead
Mephistopheles: John DesLauriers
Marguerite: Hannah Drury
Valentin: Richard Fitzsimmons
Siebel: Harriet Kirk
Wagner: Edward Harper
Marthe: Gill Clark
Musical Director: Rupert Drury
Stage Director: Dave Key-Pugh