Saturday, May 18, 2019

Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele (1868/75)

Yes! it's another Faust opera, this time by a man best-known as the librettist for Verdi's Otello and Falstaff. ARE YOU EXCITED?!? Well, you should be. I'd been wanting to see this one for a long time, so when someone on the Met in HD facebook group linked to this production, I was THERE, baby!  I'm not clear how long it'll be up, and I couldn't figure out how to download it, so better see it now rather than later.

Well...yes, it's the Faust story, but unlike Gounod's and Berlioz' operas, which were based (give or take) on Part I of Goethe's Faust, this one is based (give or take) on both parts. So you're gonna see some stuff you didn't see in those, along with Faust being redeemed in the end. You're also going to see the part where Mephistopheles makes a Job-like bet with God for Faust's soul, which is in the first part but which is in neither of the other two operas, perhaps having been considered a bit too potentially ticklish. The thing still isn't exactly what you'd call tightly plotted, but that does not matter even a little.

Really, this is terrific. The music is dramatic and tuneful and why do we not hear more about Boito? This is his only completed opera, but he also has another, about Nero, that was almost finished and is sometimes performed. I'd like to see it. ANYWAY. If you're just going to see part of it, don't miss the climactic Walpurgisnacht sequence at the end of Act II. Terrific.

Verdi allegedly said of his future librettist's work that it "aspires to originality but succeeds only at being strange." Sick burn, dude. Is it true? Is this strange? Well...I feel like it's really only strange to the extent that Goethe's original is strange, so I would say...kind of. But this production--which I thought was just awesome--definitely amps up the strangeness. There are these long, shimmery curtain tassels that sort of represent Heaven very effectively, and we see various historical figures in the Heavenly choir, but the main thing is this giant skull that's on-stage throughout most of the production, with eye holes where characters can stand or sit. I think "strange" is really the only word. Except for "cool." That would be another word.

But what I really like here is the presentation of Mephistopheles himself. Faust is, there's no denying it, about as dull as usual, but his Adversary really lights up the stage. Producers staging the opera could really present him any way they wanted, but here, in the person of Erwin Schrott (former paramour of Anna Netrebko and father of her child), they have chosen to depict him as this kind of camp, glammy musclehead whom you could picture on Jersey Shore, which sounds totally bizarre and maybe is, but is also really effective. You would never ever envision the character this way, and that's maybe what makes it work: you can't just slot it into your common tropes re demonic tempters. It's really vital and alive, and Erwin Schrott's acting actually makes the character seem sorta kinda sympathetic, which is a feat. Really, just great, although I have to say, I still kinda want to see this badass-looking production:



Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

To be fair to Verdi, Boito attacked him first. When Boito was young, he was a member of some kind of art collective that wrote a manifesto or something in which Verdi was singled out by name as an example of a "reactionary" and "obsolete" composer. Boito then sought to prove the correctness of his awesome ideas by writing Mefistofele, which originally was something like 8 hours long, I think it was only played once in this form, with himself conducting, and was a total failure (later he pared it down to a more reasonable length, which I imagine was the version that you saw). Later, he accepted Verdi's seniority and felt quite fulfilled serving as his librettist.


9:48 PM  

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