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Boito: Mefistofele / Ranzani, Furlanetto, Filianoti, Theodossiou, Zaramella

Boito / Ranzani / Furlanetto / Zaramella
Release Date: 05/31/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8660248-49   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Arrigo Boito
Performer:  Dimitra TheodossiouFerruccio FurlanettoGiuseppe FilianotiSonia Zaramella,   ... 
Conductor:  Stefano Ranzani
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Palermo Teatro Massimo ChorusPalermo Teatro Massimo Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BOITO Mefistofele Stefano Ranzani, cond; Ferruccio Furlanetto (Mefistofele); Giuseppe Filianoti ( Faust ); Dimitra Theodossiou ( Margherita/Elena ); et al.; Palermo Teatro Massimo O, Children’s Ch & Ch NAXOS 8.660248-49 (2 CDs: 133: 17) Live: Palermo 1/27/2008

This 2008 performance of Arrigo Read more Boito’s only completed opera is already available on a Dynamic DVD. No review of that release appeared in these pages, and I have not seen it. The buzz is that the performances are admirable but that, as in too many productions these days, the staging trades any sense of dramatic coherence for a set of flamboyant images that relate only in the mind of the director. The photos included in the CD booklet, especially the one of the act IV “Vegas” setting, bear out that assessment. So it is good that Naxos has decided to issue a version of this performance on CD to allow listeners to appreciate its musical strengths without the visual distractions.

Productions of Mefistofele generally stand or fall on the abilities of the bass. Celebrated bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto is 62 years old, and has sung professionally for more than 30 of those. The steady, focused tone has loosened a bit, especially when placed under pressure, but it is still an imposing instrument: dark, colorful, and powerful. A Mozart singer of great skill, he has segued into heavier repertoire as his voice has darkened over the years. He has had great success in a couple of buffo roles, in particular Leporello—until he dropped the role—and Don Pasquale. He is renowned for his intensely felt Philip II and Fiesco. More recently his portrayal of the anguished Boris Godunov has brought acclaim for both the scale and depth of his instrument and his commanding stage presence. He is less successful, however, with characters that require malevolent charm. His Gounod Méphistophélès hectors rather than seduces and bellows rather than insinuates. The same holds true for his initial attempt at Mefistofele. From the first confrontation with the heavenly host, he plays the demon as an arrogant bully rather than a supremely self-confident, sly, sardonic tempter. It is partly a matter of Furlanetto’s weighty timbre and partly temperament. His devil lacks the ability to laugh: at God, at the foolishness of the world, at Faust, and—most damagingly—at himself. The result is a monochromatic bad guy, however impressively he is vocalized. Furlanetto never wholly fails to please, but he does not surprise, or amuse, or chill as a really great Mefistofele would.

So, one of the less familiar artists turns out to be the best reason to hear this recording. Lyric tenor Giuseppe Filianoti has a handsome voice with a nice ring to it, and he uses it to create an ardent and sensitive Faust. His study with Alfredo Kraus shows in the stylishness of his singing and in his projection of the text. His elegant “Al soave raggiar di primerva” sets the benchmark for a performance of the first rank. This is a singer to follow.

Dimitra Theodossiou is not quite as impressive as might be expected. She is a well-regarded spinto with notable strength in the middle and low registers; her Margherita is intensely felt and often tonally quite attractive. “L’altra notte in fondo al mare,” however, demonstrates current strengths and weaknesses. Much of the singing is secure, and there are some nicely floated high notes, and even an approximation of a trill, but other top notes are allowed to spread and wobble rather alarmingly. She restores some control in a fiery “Dio di pieta,” and her “Lontano” duet with Filianoti is a highlight of the performance. She is a glamorous Elena in act IV, where the tessitura seemingly suits her better.

Stefano Ranzani conducts an alert and colorful account of the score, dramatic or atmospheric as appropriate. The orchestra is impressive, with nice internal balance and solid brass. The chorus is robust and engaged, and the women’s occasional shrillness and intonational independence when reaching for higher notes detracts only momentarily from the generally fine singing. At times coordination between various sections, and between the stage and the pit, can get a little ragged. This may be in part a function of the staging as all goes marvelously well in the witches’ choruses of act II, scene 2. In any case, a little spontaneous untidiness is certainly preferable to polished stiffness, and in fairness, this is a one-off recording of a difficult opera to manage. Ranzani keeps the story moving—a prime virtue in this work—and is sensitive to the changing moods and supports his singers well. That puts him ahead of several starrier conductors, in my book.

Speaking of which, my distinguished colleague Henry Fogel surveys other recordings of Mefistofele currently available in Fanfare 32:5. He is thorough and insightful, and I enthusiastically second his endorsement of the Rudel/Treigle recording on EMI—with Caballe’s thrilling Margherita and a young Domingo as a refulgent Faust—as the most satisfying commercial version available. Treigle is drier of tone than Furlanetto, but his Mefistofele is a model of nuanced vocal acting. The 1974 EMI release, in good studio sound, can be had for only a few dollars more than the new Naxos recording. Once you have the best, the Naxos can be added to hear Ranzani’s fine shaping of the score and the splendid singing of the Faust—and to see whether you agree with my assessment of the lead.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito
Performer:  Dimitra Theodossiou (Soprano), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Bass), Giuseppe Filianoti (Tenor),
Sonia Zaramella (Mezzo Soprano), Monica Minarelli (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Stefano Ranzani
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Palermo Teatro Massimo Chorus,  Palermo Teatro Massimo Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Italy 
Date of Recording: 01/2008 

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