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Busoni places no less a figure than THE archetypal scholar, an insatiable seeker of knowledge, at the heart of his »opera, which in fact is not really an opera«; the genius who makes a pact with Mephistopheles, and who in the end… what can we say: is damned? is saved? inhabits a place beyond good and evil? Premiered in Dresden in 1925, Doktor Faust became Busoni’s magnum opus. It remains forever a puzzling fragment.
Faust, now at the end of his life, despairs about his perceived lack of knowledge and what he has achieved when he learns from his assistant Wagner that three students have arrived from Krakow to hand him a magical book »Clavis Astartis Magica« as a present. This book opens up a new path for Faust in his search for knowledge and enlightenment.
At midnight Faust summons five spirits with the aid of the book. However, none of them can give a satisfactory answer to his question of how quickly they can fulfil his wishes. Just as he has almost given up all hope, the sixth spirit arrives: Mephistopheles. He is as quick as human thought and therefore fulfils Faust’s standards. He should grant him genius and fulfilment but also the suffering of mankind – Faust wishes to learn everything about the whole world. Hereafter Mephistopheles demands that Faust serve him for eternity. Faust reluctantly agrees to this pact but recognises that only the devil can free him from the believers and priests. After he has signed the agreement with his name written in blood, Mephistopheles murders Faust’s enemies in a surprise attack.
A soldier, the brother of Gretchen, the girl who was seduced by Faust and killed, begs God in church that the culprit be punished. Faust demands that Mephistopheles kill the distraught man. Dressed up as a monk, he announces the soldier’s death to him and has him murdered in the church by the guards.
Mainplay – scene 1
As a diversion, Mephistopheles takes Faust to Parma to the wedding celebrations of the duke and duchess. Faust wants to win the duchess’s heart and conjures up apparitions of famous lovers. He courts the duchess and demands she follow him. The jealous duke ends the game and invites everyone to a banquet. Mephistopheles warns Faust of the duke’s revenge. The duchess is unable to resist Faust’s reputation and flees together with him. Mephistopheles stops the raging duke from following them.
Mainplay – scene 2
Back in his home town, Faust is drinking in an inn with students. They want to hear about his adventures particularly those involving women. Faust tells them about the duchess. At that moment Mephistopheles appears and says that the duchess has died. As her legacy, she wanted to give Faust their child. Mephistopheles says that the child died on the way and tosses a bundle on the table which turns out to be straw. Mephistopheles burns the straw and creates a picture of the beautiful Helena out of the smoke. Aroused, Faust tries to touch the figure but is unable to. He recognises that man is no match for all that is perfect and complete. The three students from Krakow reappear and demand the return of the magical book. However, Faust has destroyed it and the students announce the end of his life at midnight which Faust is almost looking forward to.
Mainplay – finalscene
A night watchman announces the arrival of midnight. Wagner has, meanwhile, assumed Faust’s chair at the university and is highly praised by the students for his skills. Faust wanders through the streets. He gives a beggar woman his last belongings and realises horrified that she is the duchess. She swears that he should complete his work before midnight and hands him the corpse of their child. Faust’s prayers remain unanswered but Faust overcomes human boundaries and leaves his spirit and will to his child.