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Want to party with the devil without selling your soul? Win tickets to ‘Faust’

Neil Steinberg hosts a party for contest winners at Rittergut Wine Bar prior to the Lyric Opera's performance of 'Porgy & Bess" Monday Dec. 8, 2014. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media Group

Given our national tendency to embrace the incredible, and entertain the possibility of almost any conceivable scenario, no matter how fantastic, it is perhaps surprising there is not widespread speculation that Donald Trump has sold his soul to the devil. That would solve the mystery of how a third-rate Manhattan con artist, laughingstock and poster boy for glittery 1980s venality could become, in short order, a best-selling author, television star and president of the United States.

Plus, it would explain his notable lack of a soul.

Perhaps the entire idea of signing away your immortal spirit to Satan has lost popular culture currency, a regrettable development I am happy to try to correct, in my own modest way, on Tuesday, March 6, by bringing 100 readers to see one of my favorite operas, “Faust,” by Charles Gounod, performed by Lyric Opera of Chicago.

OPINION

The story, in case you are unfamiliar, is a legendary tale told most famously by Goethe.

Goethe’s original version begins with shades of Job: Satan makes a bet with God that he can corrupt his favorite human. The curtain goes up on Gounod’s opera with the philosopher in despair. The Devil offers him youth and love and — spoiler alert — Faust signs the bargain.

The plot, however, the duels and dances, is not the main reason I like “Faust.” Rather it is what is always my first consideration in opera: the music, which in”Faust” whirls in sinister menace and races with hell-bound drive.

There is the “Song of the Golden Calf” where Mephistopheles tells us what we already know — that we all worship gold (another theme ripped from headlines).

Some operas begin well and peter out — when people think of “Carmen,” they recall the wonderful opening, with the cigarette girls taking their break, and the seductress herself singing of love’s butterfly ways. Not the she’s-dead-let’s-go-home finish. A lot of operas do that; the audience shifting in its seats while the lovers are sealed in the tomb.

Not “Faust.” It starts well and keeps getting better, the ending as thrilling as the end of any Bond movie, as one of the great love triangles of all time — Faust, his gal, and the devil incarnate — reels to its conclusion. The ruined woman, Marguerite, is in prison. where there is a surprise bit of dramatic business that I won’t reveal but, if director Kevin Newbury does it in this brand new production the way they did it in the old, is one of the most genuinely shocking moments I’ve seen on a stage.

She’s being sprung by her feckless lover, Faust, back with his party pal, Mephistopheles. Does she go with them and be damned? In case you think hip hop artists invented sampling, notice echoes of “La Marseillaise” popping up to make the thing even more moving.  The three voices overlap and compete and then, not to give it away, but a fourth party, or should that be, a Fourth Party, comes riding in to add His two cents.

I’ve said too much already. It’s in French, but the English translation is projected over the stage. You don’t have to dress fancy. There are bars if you are so inclined.

The Sun-Times and the Lyric are giving away 50 pairs of tickets. There’s also a party beforehand. You can enter daily from Feb. 15 to 22 by finding the codeword at the “A Night at the Opera” advertisement in the daily paper.

If you’re reluctant, a word of advice: go for it. Normally a couple thousand people enter, so your odds of winning are quite good, as far as contests go. Over the past decade, I’ve taken 900 readers to the opera, and there have been many, many expressions of gratitude bordering on wonderment, as if going to the opera were somehow forbidden to them otherwise. What I’ve never heard is a single person sorry they went.

To return to where we began, I think I’m safe in pointing out to those despairing at our present political landscape that one of the significant lessons of “Faust” is this: Selling your soul to the devil? Bad idea. Fun for a while, but — spoiler alert! — it does not end well.