By Act III, Scene 6 of Faust, the title character has made his pact with the devil and has been transformed into a young man in love with the beautiful maiden Marguerite. At first, she politely rejects his advances, but this only assures him of her purity. Faust goes to her home and sees that Siebel has left her flowers, so Mephistopheles sets out to find a more impressive gift for Faust to leave. In the meantime, Faust marvels over Marguerite’s simple home and questions whether or not he should even be pursuing such an ideal, innocent creature.
Mephistopheles returns and plants a box of jewels next to Siebel’s flowers before hiding in the shadows with Faust. Marguerite comes home, with the handsome stranger from earlier in the day on her mind. She sees Siebel’s flowers, but then immediately is struck by the casket of jewels. Marguerite in her modesty is hesitant to believe such a grand gift could be for her, but she soon gives in and tries them on. Basking in their beauty and shocked at how regal they make her look, she sings Gounod’s famous “Jewel Song.” Listen to Maria Callas sing and follow the lyrics in English below:
Ah, I laugh to see myselfHere's Angela Gheorghiu's take on the aria:
so beautiful in this mirror,
Is it you, Marguerite, is it you?
Answer me, answer me,
Respond, respond, respond quickly!
No No! it's no longer you!
No...no, it's no longer your face;
It's the daughter of a king, (repeat)
It's no longer you, etc.
One must bow to her as she passes!
Ah if only he were here!
If he should see me thus
Like a lady, he would find me so beautiful, Ah!
Lets complete the metamorphosis,
I am late yet in trying on
The bracelet and the necklace!
God! it's like a hand
Which is placed on my arm! Ah, ah!
Ah, I laugh to see myself
so beautiful in this mirror!
This is undeniably a lovely moment in the opera, a light reprieve from the sinister machinations afoot. There is great pleasure for the audience in seeing Marguerite have so much fun with herself, and the aria is a soprano’s dream: a beautiful, simple, lyric melody that shows off the voice (plus the singer is bedecked with jewelery and gets to play up the character’s vanity!). But it is exactly because the innocent Marguerite is giving in to her vanity that an element of darkness persists here. This is the first step in the devil’s plan to have her succumb to worldly temptations, and it’s working…