Whether it’s in the form of a country song (“The Devil Went Down to Georgia”), an animated sitcom (Futurama’s “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”), or a classic horror flick (Rosemary’s Baby), a deal with the devil remains a popular motif in modern media. While the religious roots of the archetype reach deep into the annals of history, modern retellings owe a major debt to the ultimate demonic deal: the sale of Dr. Faust’s soul to Mephistopheles in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s philosophical masterwork, Faust. In the mid-1800s, French composer Charles Gounod put his own spin on Goethe’s play with an operatic adaptation that launched his career.
A four-to-five act opera (the final acts can be staged in multiple ways), Faust follows the plot of Part One of Goethe’s original, with a close focus on the doomed relationship between the Doctor and the naïve Marguerite (originally Margarethe). The opera showcases Gounod’s versatility, ranging from the gentle lyricism of Marguerite’s arias (“Ah! je ris de me voir” is a famous example) to darkly sardonic passages sung by Mephistopheles as he enacts his sinister machinations.