Semi-staged opera in two acts, one part in German, with Hungarian and English surtitles
Hungarian premiereAs the people are singing the Apostle’s Creed on Easter morning, Faust, rector of the University of Wittenberg, signs a pact with Mephistopheles in his own blood.
This is the opening scene of Busoni’s opera, which he started to write right in the middle of World War I, in 1916, and which he considered to be his main work. He was working on it for eight years, and it was his own death that prevented him from finishing it.
The scholar closes the book of magic. He feels the need to pray, but the words will not come. Will a single good deed be enough to save his soul? There is still a little time before midnight...
Prologue – Faust's study in Wittenberg
Faust's servant Wagner announces that three students from Cracow have arrived to bring the scholar, whom they address as "Master", a book of black magic, a key and an envelope. The three students then mysteriously disappear.
Prologue – The study, midnight
Faust draws a circle around himself and summons Lucifer to earth, causing Mephistopheles, the fallen angel's servant, to appear in the form of a figure blazing with flames. The scholar enumerates his wishes: "Grant me every desire of mine for the rest of my life. (...) Give me knowledge and the suffering that comes along with it. (...) And at the end, when I've been worn out, you can ask of me what you will.” To this, Mephistopheles answers: "And then you will be my servant." Faust hesitates to make the deal, but outside his enemies are waiting: his creditors, the priests and a soldier (the brother of the girl whom Faust has made pregnant). Faust has no other choice: he orders Mephistopheles to kill the people waiting outside. "The work of hell has commenced." From the distance the Easter chorus and the Apostle's Creed are heard. Faust signs the contract.
Scene 1 – The court of the Duke of Parma
The celebration of the wedding of the duke and duchess of Parma is under way, and the master of ceremonies presents a special attraction: Doktor Faust. The duchess and Faust feel an instant attraction to each other. Faust starts performing his magic tricks: he turns day into night, and then at the duchess's request he summons forth King Solomon, with the Queen of Sheba soon appearing alongside him as well. The duke does not fail to note how much Solomon resembles Faust, and how much the queen resembles the duchess... Next to appear are John the Baptist together with Salome: one gesture from her will mean the prophet's death. The alarmed duchess betrays her feelings by crying out: "Don't let him die!" She leaves everything behind to follow Faust.
Scene 2 – A Tavern in Wittenberg
Students prod Faust to tell them of his adventures and loves. Faust lapses into reverie, uneasily recalling the memory of the duchess of Parma, who had "vanished without a trace" a year earlier. Mephistopheles enters the tavern and throws a dead infant at Faust's feet: the duchess of Parma is dead, and has sent it to remember her by. In a mocking song he sings the truth: Faust had left the pregnant duchess to her own fate. Then he reassures the horrified students: the infant is just a straw doll. The students flee, and Helen of Troy appears to Faust, but when he attempts to touch the perfect beauty, the vision disappears. "I have done nothing. I could start over", the scholar says. But the three students from Cracow appear: they inform Faust that at midnight his time is up.
Final Scene – A Snowy Street in Wittenberg
In the guise of a night watchman, Mephistopheles calls out the evening hours. Faust returns to the place where he started from. In the church, the faithful sing of the Day of Judgement. Faust sees a beggar with a child in her arms. Approaching her, he is astonished to recognise the duchess, who entrusts the child to him. "You still have time to finish your work!" Faust tries to pray, but suddenly Helen appears on the cross instead of Christ. The scholar places the child down on a bench and again steps into the magic circle to "finish his work": to entrust the continuation of his labours to his successor. The clock strikes midnight, and Faust expires. Where his body had been, a youth stands up. "I leave you with my life. I, Faust – an eternal will."