Master of Grand Opera: Charles Gounod

Young Gounod

Faust is Bath Opera’s next blockbuster show in February with music by Charles-François Gounod.

Well, the music of this 19th century French composer might be more familiar than you think…!

One of his most well known pieces is the ‘Funeral March of a Marionette’ which was used as the theme tune of the ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ TV programmes. Have a listen…

Gounod was one of the most notable French composers of the 19th century. His operaFaust was used for the opening of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 1883.

And it is this wonderful opera Faust which will be performed by Bath Opera on 20-22 February 2020.

He has also attracted world wide fame through his ‘Ave Maria’. Inspired by his admiration for the work of JS Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier which Gounod regarded as ‘the law to pianoforte study…the unquestioned textbook of musical composition’, Gounod superimposed his own melody on top of Bach’s C major Prelude and later fitted the words of the Ave Maria, resulting in a setting that became world-famous. 

Here is one of our favourite recordings of Ave Maria sung by the fabulous soprano Renée Fleming:

Charles Gounod in 1859, the year of the premiere of Faust.

Born in Paris in 1818,  Gounod was the son of a pianist mother and an artist father. After a spell at the Paris Conservatoire, he went to Rome having won the Prix de Rome for his  compositions.

Here he studied the music of Palestrina and other sacred works of the 16th century – and he very nearly became a priest. In fact he remained a devout catholic all his life. On his piano he had a music-rack in which was carved an image of the face of Jesus.

However, he was attracted to the world of opera and after his first, Sapho in 1851, he went on to write another eleven, alongside 2 symphonies. His most famous opera is Faust which was to become one of the most frequently staged operas of all time, with no fewer than 2,000 performances at the Paris Opéra alone by 1975. Another still performed today is Roméo et Juliette.

Gounod moved to London in 1870 living in Blackheath – there is  a blue plaque on his house today. Whilst in London he became the first conductor of the Royal Choral Society.

Back in France he was made a Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur in 1888. But in 1893 – shortly after putting the finishing touches to a requiem written for his grandson, he died of a stroke in Saint-Cloud, France.

A musical farewell

Gounod’s funeral took place in 1893 at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris (pictured below). Camille Saint-Saëns played the organ while Gabriel Fauré conducted. What better send off could a composer want from his musical colleagues?

Bath Opera: Faust 

20 – 22 February 2020

Faust:  Robert Felstead
Mephistopheles:  John DesLauriers
Marguerite:  Hannah Drury
Valentin:  Rick Fitzsimmons
Siebel:  Harriet Kirk
Wagner:  Edward Harper
Marthe:  Gill Clark

Musical Director:  Rupert Drury
Stage Director:  Dave Key-Pugh

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