Rarely performed, Boito’s Mefistofele is an audacious, spectacular opera, filled with sumptuous choruses, fine arias and duets and yet, needing an audacious, spectacular cast to do it justice – great choir & orchestra, a marvelous bass voice, a spinto soprano & just… the right tenor -, but also a spectacular staging. Yet, it has never gained the popularity achieved by Gounod’s Faust – who knows why!
I personally love it & I was thrilled to be able to attend this performance in Budapest. Did it fulfill every of the previously mentioned requirements? No. Was it a night to remember? Absolutely!
The thing is not everything makes sense in KOVALIK’s production, in my opinion, and the aesthetics of CSABA ANTAL become at times disturbing for my tastes., starting from the Witches’ Sabbath that is turned into a casino, with slot machines, dancing girls and topless cowboys – all of it ruled, of course, by Mefisto – to the part when Faust and Helen of Troy were cryogenically frozen in a space-age version of Ancient Greece (!)… Why?
Let’s star from the beginning… In the Prologue, we see Mefistofele makeing his bet with God, saying he can win the soul of Faust. Here, the setting centres around a remarkable construction, a double-helix stairway, dominating the stage. Two angels tussle for supremacy, while 18 brass players – in costume – perform on platforms that rise to dizzying split-stage heights as Mefistofele breaks out of hell to make his entrance. Angels flew. Brass players & chorus filled the stairways. Later, duing Mefito’s first aria, an angel aids his chaos by shooting one of the townsfolk. Mefisto takes the pistol and shoots the angel. Faust is trying to… conquere Margherita, an innocent girl who plays with dolls. After the Witches’ Sabbath aka casino 2nd act, in the 3rd one Margherita is imprisoned for poisoning her mother and drowning her baby. During her great aria, she writes in blood & rejects Faust’s attempt to rescue her, earning salvation. The space age Ancient Greece, where Mefisto has transported Faust to conquere the heart of Helen of Troy represents the most chaotic moment of the opera – kind of in a good way. And I’ll only mention the acrobats floating in iant bubbles, so you get the idea… In the Epilogue, avision of Margherita hands Faust a Bible & Mefistofele is disturbed Hiding beneath his black long leather jackets, angel sprinkle him with rose petals, while the choir populating the double-helix discard their plastic robes. In this magnificent visual effect, Mefisto has been thrown out of heaven.
Musically it really was a very special evening indeed, despite some ups & downs in the part of the tenor. LÉTAY KISS GABRIELLA has a voice of a wonderful dramatic impact, credible, therefore, in the role of Margherita, unleashed especially in her aria L’altra notte, where her long phrases flowed gracefully. She doubled as Elena, revealing full & vibrant mezzo depth of her voice.
SUNG KYU PARK, on the other side, managed to overcome the difficult score of Boito, which requires such strong & secure high notes, but not without notable difficulties. That’s a pity, because his duet with the mezzosoprano, Forma ideal, purissima leading to a trio with Schrott’s Mefistofele results not very homogenous in terms of quality of the performance.
The star of the night was undoubtedly & easily to anticipate ERWIN SCHROTT. He certainly has stage presence for this character and besides that his acting brings the audience in… not that he needs to act when singing Mefistofele. The character suits him as a glove. Towards of the end of the evening though, it felt like he was pushing the voice
so much that pitch started to become more approximate & the sound seemed not as beautiful & healthy as it was at the beginning. The voice is huge in the middle and upper register, so there would be no reason for him to push it, even though the low register seems sometimes not to be enough for this heavy repertoire. Anyhow, he impressed with both of Mefistofele’s great arias – Son lo spirito che nega & Ecco il mondo.
The cast was well completed by ANNA CSENGE FÜRJES (Marta & Pantalis) & GERGELY BONCSÉR (Wagner & Nereo). It was a pleasure to notice the high quality of the choir & the orchestra of the Hungarian State Opera in Budaptest, well-conducted by ANTONELLO ALLEMANDI. The chorus was outstanding, offering a huge sound.
Therefore, presence of Schrott in the title role, an exiting production, with its better & worse parts, good singing in general, orchestral playing & conducting really brought the work to life in a warm April night, in the recently inaugurated Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest, whose story you must have already read in the previous pages of this OPERA Charm Magazine issue, in a charming article by CRISTINA FIERARU.