Aria Focus: “Le veau d’or”

“Le veau d’or,” or “The Song of the Golden Calf,” is sung by Mephistopheles in Act II of Faust. It contains some of Gounod’s most recognizable (and frightening) music and is a masterpiece of succinct characterization; you very quickly fear this guy. At this point in the plot, Mephistopheles has already revealed himself to Faust, and the infamous pact has been made: the weary scholar trades his soul to the devil for youth. Act II then opens with the famous “Kermesse,” or carnival scene, with throngs of students and villagers drinking and celebrating. Mephistopheles arrives, a sinister outsider, and sings “Le veau d’or,” his cynical manifesto on mankind, and his powers are gradually discovered (find an extra-detailed summary here). I’ve included a recording of the piece below by Boris Christoff with the Paris Opera Orchestra under Andre Cluytens, along with the lyrics in English. Beneath that there’s another interpretation by Bryn Terfel at Covent Garden. Enjoy, and check back in the coming weeks for more “Focus” selections from Faust.

The calf of gold is still standing!
One adulates his power,
One adulates his power,
From one end of the world to the other end!
To celebrate the infamous idol,
Kings and the people mixed together,
To the somber sound of golden coins,
They danse a wild round
Around his pedestal
Around his pedestal
And Satan leads the dance, etc, etc.

The calf of gold is the victor over the gods!
In its derisory (absurde) glory,
In its derisory (absurde) glory,
The abject monster insults heaven!
It contemplates, oh weird frenzy!
At his feet the human race,
Hurling itself about, iron in hand,
In blood and in the mire,
Where gleams the burning metal,
Where gleams the burning metal,
And satan leads the dance, etc.

[Translation from AriaDatabase]

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