"Henry Faust" started out as a thought about "essence" of opera. Isaacs thought thatone singer, one piano, and a black box theater were all that was really needed toachieve "opera-ness". Goethe´s play, "Faust," immediately came to mind. The tale ofthe professor who makes a deal with the devil for infinite knowledge and the restorationof youth, only to betray himself by lust, seemed perfect.
The three-act opera is for tenor and piano and in a Goethe-era English translation byAnna Swanwick. She was the leading translator of Goethe of her day and one of thefirst advocates for women´s rights. Every word Faust sings is a line from the play.The opera is set in a miserable single-occupancy hotel room furnished with an iron cot,a beat-up dresser and a tattered arm chair. Faust, disheveled and in his pajamas, livesout the drama. The ensuing events, the feverish creations of an addled brain, are allreal to Faust. He sees and interacts with the other two characters - the devil andGretchen - and flies to hell to dance at the Witches Sabbath.
Both the tenor and piano parts are equally demanding and require artists of the firstorder. The tenor part covers a great range - both vocally and dramatically. The pianopart requires a virtuoso and musically expresses all of the imaginary characters.