Notes and Editorial Reviews
Boito's Mefistofele is an uneven work, dramatically fragmented, episodic almost to a fault. But at the same time it is so perfectly an echt-Italian opera of its era that its melodies, situations, and choruses stir the blood in a manner not unlike Verdi and Ponchielli, and a good performance can leave the audience breathless. There are juicy parts for soprano, tenor, bass, and chorus, and a good design and directorial team can make something terrific out of it. This current DVD records the opening production of Palermo's Teatro Massimo's 2008 season, and there's something for everybody.
Director Giancarlo del Monaco, set designer Carlo Centolavigna, and costumer Maria Filippi start out superbly with the Prologue, set in
heaven: a long, blue-lit tunnel with a white light at the end (much the look of how people describe near-death experiences) finds Mefistofele in starched, white tuxedo shirt-front and trousers, preening arrogantly while the heavenly voices come from behind the scenes. Video director Matteo Ricchetti scores big with a close-up blur of Mefistofele writhing under the celestial sounds.
The Easter Scene is a brightly lit carnival set in the 1930s; the costumes are colorful period pieces, although why Mefistofele is wearing campy feathers and huge, satin horns is beyond me. An eerie carousel adds to the atmosphere. The scene changes to bare gray walls and doorways and the "garden" has one tree in its center, also gray. Margherita is drearily dressed, hausfrau style.
The Sabbath is your garden-variety, half-naked thrashing around, with our devil in drag. Still, so far, so good, but for the Night of the Classical Sabbath, we're given Las Vegas, with showgirls, plenty of neon lights, the Hotel Troy, and Venus, with Elena and Pantalis embracing in a huge clam shell. Faust is in a vulgar pink, red, and blue shirt and Panama hat; Mefistofele is dressed as either a doorman or an MC. Whatever, it's ugly and doesn't click. Back to the tunnel and light for the Epilogue and a stunning finale. So, physically and directorially (sometimes actions do not match text), this is a mixed bag.
Vocally, things are more solid. Ferruccio Furlanetto, acting and singing Mefistofele as a combination of cowering self-loathing and despicable, is still in fine voice after 30 years on stage, and he rightly dominates the proceedings--a brilliant performance. Tenor Giuseppe Filanoti manages a physically credible Faust and sings fearlessly and intelligently. His handsome tenor has real ring to it, and he sings off the text. Soprano Dimitra Theodossiou, looking dowdy as Margherita and poorly costumed as Elena, still manages to be moving as the first character and alluring as the second. "L'altra notte" is fine, if a bit miniaturized; she and Filanoti sing "Lontano, lontano" beautifully, and she manages Helen's odd tessitura with aplomb. The voice itself is one of quality and she uses it with class and style. The other soloists are good.
Conductor Stefano Ranzani pulls out all the stops for the big moments and offers tender accompaniments in Margherita's and Faust's intimate moments, with orchestra responding superbly. The woodwinds in the Prologue are spicy and vital; the brasses ring out. The chorus is excellent in the Prologue and Epiliogue but a bit ragged in between. The picture and sound are first-rate. This set's only competition is a 1989 performance from San Francisco starring Samuel Ramey at his peak in an otherwise unimaginative production and with sound and image less sharp than this new one. Even with its design and directorial oddities, this is highly recommended.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito
Dimitra Theodossiou (Soprano),
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Bass),
Giuseppe Filianoti (Tenor),
Sonia Zaramella (Mezzo Soprano),
Monica Minarelli (Mezzo Soprano)
Palermo Teatro Massimo Chorus,
Palermo Teatro Massimo Orchestra
Written: 1868; Italy
Date of Recording: 01/2008
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