This is the only completed opera by Arrigo Boito, better known for his libretti for Verdi's late masterpieces Falstaff and Otello. It is based on the Faust legend and, quite by coincidence, I watched Gounod's Faust the week before I saw this recording. Both operas are episodic and by putting the two together you get something like the complete story. For instance, in the Gounod, we suddenly find Margherita in prison, having murdered her child. Boito permits Margherita a mad scene before her imprisonment to explain this.
Boito's score is tuneful. The second act is most successful with a devil's chorus vigorously conducted by Mefistofole, the aforementioned mad scene and then a touching duet between Margherita and Faust. The three principals perform well. Samuel Ramey is suitably diabolical, Gabriela Benackova nicely differentiates her double role of Margherita and Helen of Troy, the real woman and the fantasy woman. I am not usually a fan of Denis O'Neill's when he plays heroic tenors but he was admirable in the wimpish role of Faust.
Brian Large directs with a dependability that we take for granted. The production is a lot of fun and the San Francisco Opera sets are spectacular, particularly the multi-tiered stage filled with angels. It is a production that cries out for a widescreen presentation but in this 1989 TV film we have to be content with a 4:3 aspect ratio.
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