If only it were so easy.

Your life has felt long and arduous, and hasn’t gone nearly as you expected — you missed out on love, fame, riches, happiness or all of the aforementioned — but then someone comes along and says it’s yours to do over again. All you have to do, he says, is sign away your soul.

Of course, for Faust, and the myriad fictional characters who have done the deal since, it doesn’t go particularly well. But for the rest of us the promise, and the ensuing fall, sure can be entertaining — and that unholy bargain has occupied dozens of pop culture corners.

In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Robert Johnson legend came to life in Tommy Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil so he could learn to play the guitar “real good”:

In The Twilight Zone, success would arrive for a newspaper editor, if only he would relinquish his immortal soul:



For Homer Simpson, the promise of a doughnut was all it took:

But centuries earlier, there was the highly successful scholar who was deeply dissatisfied and felt that he had missed out on life, and on love, and the promise of being young again was temptation enough.

In Charles Gounod’s famed operatic take on Goethe's Faust, the aging doctor twice tries to poison himself, but stops short when he hears a choir, and asks for infernal guidance. That’s when Méphistophélès appears with an image of the lovely Marguerite in hand, and transforms Faust’s poison into an elixir of youth. He drinks, becomes young and handsome, and things are looking up — but not for long.

The work that first opened New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1883, Faust is still produced around the globe. But this Royal Opera take, which drew together a star-studded cast that included Vittorio Grigolo, René Pape, Angela Gheorghiu and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, was considered one of the most striking productions of the work. As the Telegraph put it, it’s “one hell of a good show” — pun most likely intended.

So can a deal with the devil ever end well? According to this British telecom commercial, there is hope — for some:

Here's a cast list for this Royal Opera production.

Vittorio Grigolo, tenor, Doctor Faust
René Pape, bass, Méphistophélès
Angela Gheorghiu, soprano, Marguerite
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone, Valentin, a soldier, Marguerite's brother
Daniel Grice, baritone, Wagner, friend of Faust
Michèle Losier, mezzo-soprano, Siébel, Faust's student
Carole Wilson, mezzo-soprano, Marthe Schwerlein, Marguerite's guardian

The conductor is Evelino Pidò

You'll hear the Royal Opera House production of Gounod's Faust on CBC Radio 2's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on Dec. 1 at 1 p.m. (2 p.m. AT, 2:30 p.m. NT).

Related:

Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin from the COC

Handel's Orlando from La Monnaie

La Finta Giardiniera: an early Mozart opera

Wagner’s Rienzi: where it all began

The Flying Dutchman: A not-so-dreamy marriage

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads an all-star Don Giovanni

posted by Jennifer Van Evra on Nov 27, 2012