The year of his triumph had at last arrived. He had waited and toiled for years over “Faust,” and it was now ready to flash on the world with an electric brightness that was to make his name instantly famous. One day saw him an obscure, third-rate composer, the next one of the brilliant names in art. “Faust,” first performed March 19, 1859, fairly took the world by storm. Gounod’s warmest friends were amazed by the beauty of the masterpiece, in which exquisite melody, great orchestration, and a dramatic passion never surpassed in operatic art, were combined with a scientific skill and precision which would vie with that of the great masters of harmony. Carvalho, the manager of the Theatre Lyrique, had predicted that the work would have a magnificent reception by the art world, and lavished on it every stage resource. Madame Miolan-Carvalho, his brilliant wife, one of the leading sopranos of the day, sang the role of the heroine, though five years afterward she was succeeded by Nilsson, who invested the part with a poetry and tenderness which have never been quite equaled.
“Faust” was received at Berlin, Vienna, Milan, St. Petersburg, and London, with an enthusiasm not less than that which greeted its Parisian debut. The clamor of dispute between the different schools was for the moment hushed in the delight with which the musical critics and public of universal Europe listened to the magical measures of an opera which to classical chasteness and severity of form and elevation of motive united such dramatic passion, richness of melody, and warmth of orchestral color. From that day to the present “Faust” has retained its place as not only the greatest but the most popular of modern operas. The proof of the composer’s skill and sense of symmetry in the composition of “Faust” is shown in the fact that each part is so nearly necessary to the work, that but few “cuts” can be made in presentation without essentially marring the beauty of the work; and it is therefore given with close faithfulness to the author’s score.
After the immense success of “Faust,” the doors of the Academy were opened wide to Gounod. On February 28, 1862, the “Reine de Saba” was produced, but was only a succes d’estime, the libretto by Gerard de Nerval not being fitted for a lyric tragedy.*
* It has been a matter of frequent comment by the ablest musical critics that many noble operas, now never heard, would have retained their place in the repertoires of modern dramatic music, had it not been for the utter rubbish to which the music has been set.
Many numbers of this fine work, however, are still favorites on concert programmes, and it has been given in English under the name of “Irene.” Gounod’s love of romantic themes, and the interest in France which Lamartine’s glowing eulogies had excited about “Mireio,” the beautiful national poem of the Provencal, M. Frederic Mistral,