Mefistofele

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Mefistofele is an opera in a prologue, four acts and an epilogue, the only completed opera by the Italian composer-librettist Arrigo Boito. The opera was given its premiere on 5 March 1868 at La Scala, Milan under the baton of the composer, despite his lack of experience and skill as a conductor.

However, it was not a success and immediately withdrawn after only two performances. Revisions in 1875 resulted in success in Bologna and, with further adjustments in 1876 for Venice, the opera was performed elsewhere.

Composition history[edit]

Boito began consideration of an opera on the Faustian theme after completing his studies at the Milan Conservatory in 1861. Mefistofele is one of many pieces of classical music based on the Faust legend, and like many other composers, Boito used Goethe's version as his starting point. He was an admirer of Richard Wagner, and like him chose to write his own libretto, something which was virtually unheard of in Italian opera up to that time.

The most popular earlier work based on the legend was Gounod's opera Faust, which Boito regarded as a superficial and frivolous treatment of a profound subject. Furthermore, Boito was contemptuous of what he saw as the low operatic standards prevailing in Italy at that time, and he determined to make his new work distinctive, both musically and intellectually, from anything that had been heard before. He hoped that it would be a wake-up call and an inspiration to other young Italian composers.

The piano-vocal score was completed in 1867 while Boito was visiting relatives in Poland.

Performance history and revisions[edit]

19th century[edit]

As the evening of 5 March 1868 premiere performance progressed, the hostility of the audience, unfamiliar with Boito’s avant-garde musical style and unimpressed by many of the scenes (notably the scene in the emperor's court), steadily increased. Furthermore the work was far too long and the cast inadequate for the complexities of the music. When the curtain finally came down well after midnight it was clear that the premiere had been nothing short of a fiasco. After just two performances, with the second one being divided into two sections and presented on two successive evenings, the opera was withdrawn.

Boito immediately set to work revising his opera, greatly reduced its length (cc by 1/3) by making many scenes smaller in scale. Most important changes were the following: Boito removed the entire first scene of the original act 4 (scene in the imperial court), symphonic intermezzo "La Battaglia" and expanded act 5 as an epilogue, adding the duet Lontano, lontano to Act 3 in the process. Faust was changed from a baritone to a tenor.

The revised version was premiered in Bologna on 4 October 1875, this time sung by what is generally regarded to be a very fine cast, and was an immediate success. This change in reception is thought to be partly due to Boito's revisions making the opera more traditional in style, and also to the Italian audience having become familiar with, and more willing to accept, developments in opera associated with those of Richard Wagner.

Boito made further minor revisions during 1876, and this version was first performed in Venice on 13 May 1876. The first British performance took place at Her Majesty's Theatre, London on 6 July 1880 and the American premiere was on 16 November 1880 in Boston.[1][2] Thereafter Boito continued to make small changes until the final definitive production in Milan on 25 May 1881.

20th century and beyond[edit]

In the early 20th century, revivals of the opera were associated particularly with the famous Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin: he sang the title role on the occasion of his first appearance outside Russia (La Scala, Milan, 16 March 1901) and also on his North American debut (Metropolitan Opera, New York, 20 November 1907).[2] Chaliapin made his first appearance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 25 May 1926. Parts of a subsequent performance on 31 May were recorded by His Master's Voice.[3]

In 1969, the New York City Opera presented a new production by Tito Capobianco, with Norman Treigle scoring his greatest success in the title role.

The Metropolitan Opera has given the work a total of 67 times since it first appeared there on 5 December 1883, most recently in February 2000.[4] The Royal Opera in London has only given one performance of the opera, a concert version in March 1998 at the Barbican Centre, with Samuel Ramey as the title character. [5]

As Mefistofele, Ramey made the role a signature one, appearing in many productions in the 1980s and early 1990s, including one given by the San Francisco Opera in November 1994.[6] San Francisco Opera will revive the 1994 production of the opera as the first production of its 2013-2014 season with Ildar Abdrazakov as Mefistofele, Patricia Racette as Margherita and Ramón Vargas as Faust.[7]

The opera was performed as part of the 2013/2014 season at the Croatian National Theatre (HNK Split), directed by Michał Znaniecki and conducted by Nikša Bareza.[8]

In August 2014, the opera was performed in the 13th Opera Festival of the Theatro da Paz in Belém, Brazil, after a 50-year hiatus from Brazilian theaters. There Mefistofeles was played by Denis Sedov and Fausto played by Fernando Portari.[9]

Roles[edit]

Role[2] Voice type
First version
Premiere cast[10]
5 March 1868
(Conductor: Arrigo Boito)
Voice type
Revised version
Cast (revised Bologna version)[11]
4 October 1875
(Conductor: Emilio Usiglio)
Elena (Helen of Troy) soprano Mélanie-Charlotte Reboux soprano Erminia Borghi-Mamo
Faust, a scholar baritone Gerolamo Spallazzi tenor Italo Campanini
Margherita, a simple girl soprano Mélanie-Charlotte Reboux soprano Erminia Borghi-Mamo
Marta, Margherita's neighbour contralto Giuseppina Flory contralto Antonietta Mazzucco
Mefistofele bass François-Marcel (Marcello) Junca bass Romano Nannetti
Nereo, a Greek elder tenor Carlo Casarini
Pantalis, Helen's companion contralto Giuseppina Flory contralto Antonietta Mazzucco
Wagner, Faust's pupil tenor Carlo Casarini
Chorus: heavenly host, cherubim, penitents, hunters, villagers, students, witches, warlocks, coryphaei and warriors

Synopsis[edit]

Prologue[edit]

A heavenly chorus praises God the Creator. Mefistofele scornfully declares that he can win the soul of Faust. His challenge is accepted by the Forces of Good.

Act 1[edit]

Scene 1, Easter Sunday

The aged Dr. Faust and his pupil Wagner are watching the Easter celebrations in the main square in Frankfurt. Faust senses that they are being followed by a mysterious friar, about whom he senses something evil. Wagner dismisses his master’s feelings of unease and as darkness falls they return to Faust’s home

Scene 2, The Pact

Faust is in his study, deep in contemplation. His thoughts are disturbed in dramatic fashion by the sudden appearance of the sinister friar, whom he now recognizes as a manifestation of the Devil (Mefistofele). Far from being terrified, Faust is intrigued and enters into a discussion with Mefistofele culminating in an agreement by which he will give his soul to the devil on his death in return for worldly bliss for the remainder of his life.

Act 2[edit]

Scene 1, The Garden

Restored to his youth, Faust has infatuated Margareta, an unsophisticated village girl. She is unable to resist his seductive charms and agrees to drug her mother with a sleeping draught and meet him for a night of passion. Meanwhile Mefistofele amuses himself with Martha, another of the village girls.

Scene 2, The Witches Sabbath

Mefistofele has carried Faust away to witness a Witches' Sabbath on the Brocken mountain. The devil mounts his throne and proclaims his contempt for the World and all its worthless inhabitants. As the orgy reaches its climax Faust sees a vision of Margareta, apparently in chains and with her throat cut. Mefistofele reassures him that the vision was a false illusion.

Act 3[edit]

Faust’s vision had been true. Margareta lies in a dismal cell, her mind in a state of confusion and despair. She has been imprisoned for poisoning her mother with the sleeping draught supplied by Faust and for drowning the baby she had borne him. Faust begs Mefistofele to help them escape together. They enter the cell and at first Margareta does not recognize her rescuers. Her joy at being reunited with Faust turns to horror when she sees Mefistofele and recognizes that he is the Devil. Refusing to succumb to further evil, Margareta begs for divine forgiveness. She collapses to the cell floor as the Celestial choir proclaims her redemption.

Act 4[edit]

Mefistofele has now transported Faust back in time to Ancient Greece. Helen of Troy and her followers are enjoying the luxurious and exotic surroundings on the banks of a magnificent river. Faust, attired more splendidly than ever, is easily able to win the heart of the beautiful princess. In a passionate outpouring they declare their undying love and devotion to each other.

Epilogue[edit]

Back in his study Faust, once more an old man, reflects that neither in the world of reality or of illusion was he able to find the perfect experience he craved. He feels that the end of his life is close, but desperate for his final victory, Mefistofele urges him to embark on more exotic adventures. For a moment Faust hesitates, but suddenly seizing his Bible he cries out for God’s forgiveness. Mefistofele has been thwarted; he disappears back into the ground as Faust dies and the Celestial choir once more sings of ultimate redemption.

Recordings[edit]

Year Cast
(Mefistofele,
Faust,
Margherita)
Conductor
Opera House and/or Orchestra
Label[12]
1931 Nazzareno de Angelis,
Antonio Melandri,
Mafalda Favero
Lorenzo Molajoli
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan
Naxos Historical (originally Italian Columbia)
Cat: 8.110273-74[13]
1952 Giulio Neri,
Gianni Poggi,
Rosetta Noli
Franco Capuana
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan
Audio CD: Cantus Classics
Cat: 500 330
1956 Giulio Neri,
Ferruccio Tagliavini,
Marcella Pobbé
Angelo Questa
Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino, Orchestra Sinfonica RAI Torino
Audio CD: Warner Fonit
Cat: 0927 40350-2
1956 Boris Christoff,
Giacinto Prandelli,
Orietta Moscucci
Vittorio Gui
Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 65655
1958 Cesare Siepi,
Mario del Monaco,
Renata Tebaldi
Tullio Serafin
Orchestra e Coro dell' Accademia Santa Cecilia, Roma
Audio CD: Decca
Cat: 000289 440 0542 4[14]
1973 Norman Treigle,
Plácido Domingo,
Montserrat Caballé
Julius Rudel
Ambrosian Opera Chorus & London Symphony Orchestra
Audio CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 07243 566501 2 1[15]
1982 Nicolai Ghiaurov,
Luciano Pavarotti,
Mirella Freni
Oliviero de Fabritiis
London Opera Chorus & National Philharmonic Orchestra
Audio CD:Decca
Cat: 000289 475 6666 3[16]
1988 Samuel Ramey,
Plácido Domingo,
Eva Marton
Giuseppe Patanè
Hungarian State Orchestra & Hungarian Opera Chorus
Audio CD:Sony
Cat: B0000026QH[17]
2004 Mark S. Doss,
Alberto Cupido,
Annalisa Raspagliosi
Paolo Carignani
Chor Der Oper Frankfurt & Oper Frankfurt
Audio CD:Hr Musik
Cat: B000HT1WQ0 [18]
2008 Ferruccio Furlanetto,
Giuseppe Filianoti,
Dimitra Theodossiou
Stefano Ranzani
Orchestra & Chorus & Teatro Massimo, Palermo
Video DVD:Dynamic (record label)
Cat: 33581

In popular culture[edit]

Batman Begins depicts the opera being performed onstage, using an excerpt of Rampiamo, rampiamo, che il tempo ci gabba (Chorus of Warlocks and Witches from Act 2, scene 2) from the 1973 EMI (see "Recordings" above). During the scene, performers dressed as bat-like monsters frighten young Bruce Wayne, who asks to leave.

An avant-garde video directed by Yevhen Tymokhin on a remix with the verse E' mia madre addormentata from Margareta's aria in Act 3 was awarded the Euro Video Grand Prix 2006.[19]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Sadie, Stanley (1997), p. 415
  2. ^ a b c Ashbrook, pp. 303 - 305
  3. ^ Borovsky, p. ??
  4. ^ Metropolitan Opera online database on metoperafamily.org
  5. ^ Royal Opera House online database
  6. ^ San Francisco Opera performance database on archive.sfopera.com
  7. ^ Information on the opera from the San Francisco Opera website
  8. ^ Information on the production (in Croatian)
  9. ^ News announcement from G1 (in Portuguese)
  10. ^ "Almanacco 5 March 1868" (in Italian). AmadeusOnline. Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  11. ^ "Almanacco 4 October 1875" (in Italian). AmadeusOnline. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  12. ^ Source of recordings information of Mefistofele on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
  13. ^ "Boito - Mefistofele". Naxos Records. Retrieved 4 September 2010. 
  14. ^ "Boito - Mefistofele". The Decca Record Company London. Retrieved 4 September 2010. 
  15. ^ "Boito - Mefistofele". EMI Classics. Retrieved 4 September 2010. 
  16. ^ "Boito - Mefistofele". The Decca Record Company London. Retrieved 4 September 2010. 
  17. ^ "Boito - Mefistofele". Sony Classical. Retrieved 30 January 2012. 
  18. ^ "Boito: Mefistofele". Hr Musik. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  19. ^ Matoshko, Alexandra (14 June 2006). "Ukraine wins Euro Video Grand Prix.". KyivPost. Retrieved 14 June 2006. 

Sources

External links[edit]