"Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust"
Christina Nilsson (20 August 1843 - 20 November 1921) , photographed in 1870
Public DomainChristina Nilsson (20 August 1843 - 20 November 1921) , photographed in 1870 - Credit: Carl I. Bergamasco

Christina Nilsson was a Swedish operatic soprano singer, famed for her bel canto technique.

Although The Age of Innocence opens with a performance of Faust at the Academy of Music in New York City in the early 1870s with Nilsson performing the role of Marguerite, it is thought by some that Edith Wharton's impressions actually originated from performances at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1880s (Wharton was still a child in the early 1870s).

Faust is the story of a depressed and ageing scholar who sells his soul to the devil in return for youth, pleasure and a beautiful woman.  His satanically-enabled pursuit of innocent Marguerite threatens to destroy her. 

Made famous in plays by Marlowe and Goethe, the legend is here set to music by Charles Gounod.

 

Charles Gounod (1818–1893), photographed at the time of the premiere of his opera Faust (1859)
Public DomainCharles Gounod (1818–1893), photographed at the time of the premiere of his opera Faust (1859) - Credit: Steven Huebner
Lithograph depicting the vision of Margeurite in Faust's study in Act 1 of Gounod's opera Faust as performed at Covent Garden in 1864
Public DomainLithograph depicting Faust and Mephistopheles and the vision of Marguerite in Act 1 of Gounod's Faust as performed at Covent Garden in 1864 - Credit: Wikimedia Commons