Orchestre National de France: Damnation of Faust

A Part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series

Above: Conductor Cristian Măcelaru Credit: Christophe Abramovitz/Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

For cast lists and playlists, please visit the Opera Series Overview.

As part of their 90th anniversary season in 2023-24, the Orchestre National de France presents a gripping production of the Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Berlioz explores Faust’s existential despair, his pact with the devil, and his tragic descent into hell in profound music that contemplates the human condition, blending elements of love, ambition, and the supernatural into an unforgettable spectacle. John Irvin sings the title role, with Stéphanie d’Oustrac as Marguerite. This performance features Chœur de Radio France and is under the direction of Cristian Măcelaru.

Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust undoubtedly belongs to that category of work that seems to be suspended in time. Berlioz took almost twenty years to complete this dramatic legend and visionary poem akin to both a grand opera (which it subsequently became) and a symphonic poem (a form in which the French musician’s mastery rivaled that of Strauss). Instantly captivated by Gérard de Nerval’s translation of Goethe’s Faust, Berlioz was haunted for many years by the idea of setting the legend to music. From the plains of Hungary to Faust’s study, and from the banks of the Elbe to Marguerite’s bedchamber, this work is a major example of the Romantic aesthetic.


 Part 1

Faust, a disillusioned scholar, is introduced in the Hungarian countryside. Surrounded by the joys of spring and pastoral life, he contemplates nature and feels a transient peace. However, he soon grows disillusioned by the superficial happiness around him and longs for deeper meaning and insights. As Faust returns to his study, his despair deepens. Neither his books nor scholarly pursuits provide him with the answers he seeks. As he contemplates suicide, his thoughts are interrupted by the sounds of the Easter hymn, which momentarily restores his faith and hope.

 Part II

Faust’s depression returns, and he curses faith and science. At this point, Méphistophélès appears, offering Faust unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures in exchange for his soul. Faust, disillusioned and desperate, agrees to the pact, and the two embark on a series of adventures. Méphistophélès takes Faust to a tavern where drunken peasants celebrate. Faust is disgusted by the scene, reinforcing his distaste for humanity’s baser aspects. The journey continues in Auerbach’s Cellar, a famous tavern from Goethe’s Faust, where revelry and supernatural tricks further disillusion Faust.

Part III

Faust’s adventures lead him to Marguerite, and he is instantly smitten. Méphistophélès aids him in winning her affection, resulting in a romance. However, their happiness is short-lived as Faust’s pact and actions have consequences that catch up with them. Marguerite faces social condemnation and spiritual torment due to her affair with Faust and the consequences that follow. Meanwhile, Faust is tormented by guilt and despair over her suffering.

 Part IV

Méphistophélès takes Faust on a wild ride to the abyss. As they journey, demons and damned souls surround them. Faust hears Marguerite’s voice praying for forgiveness and realizes the gravity of his actions and her suffering. In a dramatic climax, Faust is confronted with the horrors of damnation. He is horrified by the demonic and chaotic scenes around him but is ultimately unable to escape his fate due to the contract he signed with Méphistophélès.

In a turn towards redemption, Marguerite is saved by her innocence and faith. Angels declare that her soul is saved, providing a stark contrast to Faust’s damnation. The work ends with Marguerite ascending to heaven, a symbol of divine grace and forgiveness.

Summary and synopsis courtesy of Orchestre National de France.


About the Host:
Lisa Flynn has been a program host and producer for WFMT since 1991. She presents The New Releases and has hosted many programs for the WFMT Radio Network, including War Letters (which won the 2002 Peter Lisagor Award) and a series of live broadcasts from Salzburg to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006. As WFMT’s midday weekday announcer, Lisa hosts live studio performances and interviews guest artists including Renée Fleming, John Adams, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, John Eliot Gardiner, and many others. Before coming to Chicago, Lisa presented classical music at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, and at WMFE and WUCF in Orlando, Florida. She holds a music degree from the University of Central Florida.


This program is a part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series, a series designed to complement the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts to fill out the year with great Opera content. The series begins in June and lasts until December.


Category: Operas
Duration: 2-hour / Varies by Opera
Frequency: Flexible
Availability: 08/03/2024 - 08/09/2024

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