This thesis deconstructs the gender symbolism evident in the opera Faust (1859) by Gounod. The objective is to determine the gendered authenticity, originality and contributing nature of the work, acknowledging the Catholic nineteenth-century French context in which it was written. The study aims to establish the nature of the gender constructs portrayed (whether representative of their conservative milieu, or suggestive of unconventionality, liberalism and innovation) and how these portrayals were executed by Gounod and his librettists.
An exploration of the construction of Faust and a comparison with Goethe’s Faust: Der Tragödie Erster Teil (1808), on which the Gounodian creation is loosely based, initiates the study. The theory of performativity by Judith Butler (1990), together with other general gender hypotheses on, for instance, masculine and feminine personalities and perversity, follows. Hereafter, gender in the context of artistic performances, and gender constructs in Christianity are investigated. These general, performance-based and theological theories and ideas are then compared to the gendered characters in Faust.
The secular and Catholic gender norms that governed men and women in nineteenth-century France inevitably had an influence on how gender is represented in the opera. Hence, contextual aspects, as well as Gounod’s own interaction with, and exhibition of gender are analysed in order to establish their influential extent on Faust.
A deconstruction of the opera as three different texts – libretto, score and DVD productions of three Faust performances – is applied since this contributes to holistic and objective conclusions.
The aspects investigated in the study have brought to light that Faust shamelessly highlights the destructive consequences of social, cultural and religious gender stereotypes governing nineteenth-century Catholic France, whilst simultaneously proposing liberated gender identities. Gounod is innovative in presenting a female protagonist through the role of Marguerite. She is an intricate, developing character representative of multiple perplexed femininities, many of which are conquering and symbolic of female empowerment. Siébel serves as a source of great gender ambiguity and contradiction. These aspects are fuelled by an ironic female identity – hence, the notion of performativity is ingeniously incorporated into this character. Both femininity and masculinity is advocated in the portrayals of Méphistophèles and the Christian God, while interesting and unexpected masculinities are embodied through Faust and Valentin.
By using the above methodology, I suggest that Gounod’s Faust is an authentic and pioneering work representing ambivalent, controversial, contradictory and empowering gender constructs, making it a composition of considerable worth, both musically and historically.
NB: Additional information available on a CD stored at the Merensky Library front Counter.
Dissertation MMus--University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 2014
5 CDs available with the study. Kept at the Open Scholarship Office in the Embargo room.