So you think you’ve got it bad, you recent college graduates who are trying to find, keep and succeed in some job related at least vaguely to your field of study and chosen profession? Spare a thought for those poor souls who were trying to make it as alchemists back in the 15th and 16th centuries. Trying to find or create the Philosopher’s Stone – an object with the capacity of turning base metals into gold – was a professional goal even more hopeless than the search for the Northwest Passage a few centuries later. So it’s hard to blame that guy (whoever he was, historically; there are a number of candidates) who inspired the tale that we now know as Faust for getting frustrated enough in his fruitless quest for Ultimate Knowledge that he was willing to sell his soul to Mephistopheles.
Although there are written versions that date back to at least 1587, the most famous rendering of the legend of Faust (or Dr. Faustus) is the play that was the major life’s work of the German literary giant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. A true man of the Enlightenment, Goethe certainly sympathized with the archetypal scientist-gone-astray. Instead of consigning his protagonist to eternal perdition at the end of the story, like his predecessors, Goethe confounded the moralizers of his time by having Faust redeemed in his second act by the intervention of the Divine Feminine. Justice is tempered by Mercy, and the fact that Faust’s primary motivation was the love of knowledge earns him Brownie points for the Hereafter.
When Charles Gounod composed his 1859 opera Faust, he based it on a play by Michel Carré titled Faust et Marguerite, which in turn was “inspired by” Goethe’s epic. But somewhere along the way – perhaps to pacify elements in French society who insisted on bad guys getting their just punishments in any work of literature – the redemptive second act got lost. If you go to see the high-definition simulcast of Gounod’s Faust from the Metropolitan Opera this Saturday at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC), you’ll get to witness some rousing Satanic revelry on Walpurgisnacht, but you’ll be spared the happy ending (for Faust, anyway; the innocent Marguerite does get to go to Heaven).
This latest installment in the wildly popular opera screening series called The Met: Live in HD begins at 1 p.m. on December 17. Although Faust has long been a standby in the Met’s repertoire, this is a new production by award-winning director Des McAnuff, who updates the story to the first half of the 20th century. Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role, René Pape plays the Devil and Marina Poplavskaya is Marguerite; Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts.
Tickets to experience Gounod’s Faust in high-definition projection on a giant screen at UPAC go for $23 general admission, $21 for Bardavon members and $16 for children age 12 and under. (Considering the astronomical price of an actual night at the opera these days, you might call that a Faustian bargain.) You can obtain tickets at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; at the UPAC box office at 602 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or through TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.