A vast plain in Hungary.
It’s the dawn of a spring day and Faust contemplates with joy the awakening of nature. His peacefulness is disturbed by a festive dance of peasants, towards whom he shows signs of irritation betraying a slight sense of jealousy. Soon after in the distance comes the sound of a war march by a group of soldiers. (Rákóczy March).
In his study Faust reflects on the monotony of his life and falls in a state of deep despair. So he decides to kill himself , but he stops when he hears an Easter hymn that brings back to his mind the sweet memories of the religious innocence of his childhood. Suddenly, Méphistophélès appears, pouring scorn on the mystical fervour of the old doctor, he sarcastically call himself the «spirit of life», capable of giving happiness. Faust, at first is afraid of the fiendish appearance of the intruder, but he soon agrees to follow him, and the two vanish in the air.
The tavern of Auerbach in Leipzig.
A crowd of drunk people sings the praise of the wine of the Rhine and pale ale. In such a high spirited atmosphere , some students are having fun and wants Brander, who is one of them, to sing a song, the young man comes up with a new song about a poisoned rat, that is running around in the kitchen and ends up in an oven and dies roasted. The students, amused, raise a prayer in memory of the poor mouse, ending with an ironic «Amen». Méphistophélès congratulates the students on their ability and continues with a song about the insatiable appetite of a flea that has become the favorite pet of a prince. Faust is disgusted by the vulgarity of it all and asks Mephistopheles to take him where he can have a different kind of fun.
Woods and meadows on the banks of Elbe.
Méphistophélès invites Faust to lie down on a bed of scented roses and while listening to a melodious chant of the spirits of the air and the earth he makes him fall asleep . In his sleep Faust dreams of being surrounded by gnomes and dancing sylphs celebrating the happiness of love. Among the appearances of floating spirits and sensuous choruses, Méphistophélès shows Faust images of couples of young lovers wandering ecstatically between wine leaves and flowers, eventually the vision of Marguerite, an extraordinarily beautiful young girl, appears to Faust, who, immediately falls in love with her and asks Méphistophélès to lead him to her. Méphistophélès promises to take him directly to her bedroom, they follow a group of students who are walking towards the house of the beautiful girl. When it becomes dark, some soldiers sing a song which compares the girl to a fortress to be besieged, cheerfully a some students answer back to them with playful songs.
Faust is taken by Méphistophélès to the house of the girl, he is immediately fascinated by the peaceful atmosphere of her place. Marguerite enters the room, still dazzled by the beauty of the young man who had previously appeared in her dream, Faust hides himself behind the curtains. As she lets down her hair, the girl sings the old ballad of the King of Thulé. The song tells the story of a king who realises that he is going to die. In his desperation the king throws a golden bowl, given to him by his young lover, from the top of the castle down to the sea , so that no one else would take it after his death. Meanwhile Méphistophélès, in the courtyard of the house, summons many spirits to sing along with him a serenade to the girl, foretelling her loss of innocence. Marguerite and Faust embrace each other, holding tightly with passion, Marguerite confesses to Faust that she had first met him in a dream and she had fallen in love with him even before meeting him. Méphistophélès suddenly enters the room to announce that all the neighbours are very suspicious of what is happening in that room, he then rushes down the stairs of the house and goes to call Marguerite’s mother to the scene. The two lovers are forced to separate, but Faust promises to return the following day, while Méphistophélès rejoices at the fact that Faust’s will is under his influence. Faust’s soul, is now prey to passions and it is ready to be conquered.
Marguerite is in pain because Faust did not come back, when it comes dark the chants of the students and the soldiers resound in the far distance as it happened to the two lovers on the occasion of their first encounter.
Forests and caves.
Faust invokes the wild nature that, alone, can give comfort to his profound apathy. While a distant clamour comes from a hunting party in the woods, Méphistophélès suddenly appears to announce Marguerite’s imprisonment. She has been sentenced to death with the accusation of poisoning her mother with the sleeping potions that Faust had given her to make their secret love encounters possible. Faust asks Méphistophélès to free Marguerite; Méphistophélès agrees but demands in return that the doctor commits himself in writing to give him his soul in the afterlife. After the contract is signed two black horses appear, they start galloping very fast in order to save Marguerite. In the unrestrained run the two horses jump into a group of peasants who are praying in front of a country cross, while Méphistophélès urges Faust – who is horrified by the terrible accident – to spur the horse in order to arrive in time to save Marguerite. The incitement of Méphistophélès is a deception; suddenly the devil starts shouting, the other spirits respond to him with the clamour of the infernal trumpets, the two fall with their horses into an abyss where Méphistophélès is brought to triumph by demons to celebrate his victory. Meanwhile in heaven a chorus of heavenly spirits intercedes for the salvation of the soul of Marguerite, solely guilty of having loved too much, she finally ascends to heaven.