Great Performances (1971– )
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San Francisco Opera: Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito 

Not Rated | | Biography, Drama, Music | Episode aired 1989

On Disc

at Amazon



Episode cast overview:
Samuel Ramey ...
Margherita and Elena (as Gabriela Benackova)
Dennis O'Neill ...
Judith Christin ...
Emily Manhart ...
Daniel Harper ...
Douglas Wunsch ...
San Francisco Opera Chorus ...
San Francisco Opera Orchestra ...
Themselves - Orchestra
Maurizio Arena ...
Himself - Conducted by


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Not Rated




Release Date:

1989 (USA)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Remade as Mefistofele (2014) See more »

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User Reviews

Devillishly good is correct!
25 January 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I agree with the previous reviewer entirely. As a big opera enthusiast, and as someone who likes Mefistofele and admires Samuel Ramey, I adored this 1989 production. I find Boito's Mefistofele very interesting, I love the libretto and while the music is not as hummable as Gounod's Faust it is beautiful.

On a visual level, Mefistofele really impresses. The sets are minimalist but effective, the lighting is highly atmospheric and the costumes look great with Ramey especially imposing. Credit must also go to Brian Large, who directs the video beautifully, with clarity and focus, one of many reasons why the opening prologue is so moving.

Boito's music is both beautiful and powerful, and the pitch-perfect orchestra and efficient conducting give it perfect justice. As do the chorus, who are animated dramatically and very balanced vocally. When it comes to the staging, the opening prologue and Mad scene are staged wonderfully, but the standout was the Witch's Sabbath, which is one of my favourite and one of the most unforgettable stagings of any opera scene I've seen in a long time.

The principal performances couldn't have been better. Dennis O'Neill's acting didn't bowl me over, with too much looking in the pit perhaps, but it was acceptable enough considering Faust isn't Mefistofele's most interesting character to me in the first place. Gabriela Benackova is most excellent in the dual roles of Elena and especially Margharita, with a truly beautiful voice and the performance is splendidly characterised, you really do believe in the tragedy of Margharita.

Samuel Ramey is incomparable in the title role, and to me has never been better. I have always admired Ramey for his dark and sumptuous voice. I have come across some who say his acting is wooden in general, something I personally disagree with, but looking at his performance you would never have guessed. In the difficult role of Mefistofele he is incredibly commanding, very sensual in a raw way, sarcastic, frightening and intense. His singing has always ranged from very great to fantastic, apart from some woolliness in recent years, but here it has a very booming quality complete with superb vocal expression which makes the performance all the more impressive.

In conclusion, devilishly good especially for Ramey. 10/10 Bethany Cox

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