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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Devilishly good

9/10
Author: Gyran from Birmingham, England
1 July 2004

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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Devillishly good is correct!

10/10
Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
25 January 2012

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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