Gounod’s opera Faust has all the ingredients for success: sex, money, war, jealousy, the battle between saints and sinners, and in every scene, memorable tunes and opportunities for vocal display. Although many 20th-century music critics disdained its old-fashioned theatricality, no other French opera of the 19th century has held its place in the repertory so firmly – with the obvious exception of Bizet’s Carmen.
Gounod composed Faust for the 1859 season at the Théatre Lyrique in Paris. His librettists, Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, did not base their text directly on Goethe’s tragedy, but on a play that Carré had already written called Faust et Marguerite. The grand spectacle quickly established itself internationally, with productions in Milan, London, St Petersburg, Warsaw, Dresden, Munich and Philadelphia. But what are the essential recordings? Here are four to seek out…
EMI Great Recordings of the Century 567 9672
A classic set that wears its years lightly, Gedda and De los Angeles ideally paired as Faust and Marguerite, with Christoff a
Decca 421 2402
The first attempt at a complete recording, with three superstar voices, Corelli, Sutherland and Ghiaurov, makes Decca sound at its best.
An opera that Beecham held in special affection, with leading French tenor of his day, Georges Noré, a fascinating Faust and Géori Boué an authentic Marguerite.
Pearl GEMM CDS 9987
A glimpse at a lost style, Faust as it might have been heard in Paris in 1930. Diction, timing, characterisation of the first order, and amazingly vivid sound for a set 75 years young.
Original text by Patrick O’Connor