Good quality vocal cast for Boito's opera. The mise en scène is merely descriptive.
At the Teatro Comunale Pavarotti Freni in Modena arrives an opera that has now become almost a rarity on Italian stages: Arrigo Boito's 'Mefistofele'. Arrigo Boito's great work, permanently in the repertoire until the 1970s, at the Arena di Verona alone it had 45 performances until 1979, has since then unfortunately slowly slipped into oblivion.
There are several reasons for this: on the one hand, the lack of great Italian basses capable of performing the 'partaccia' of Mefistofele, and on the other, the massive orchestral, choral and choreographic ensemble required for the staging of an opera that could well be defined as an Italian version of the French 'grand opéra'.
Be that as it may, Mefistofele had not been seen in Italy for years, and Modena did well to revive it, albeit in a 2016 stage version from the Teatro di Pisa, which unfortunately fails to do justice to the theatrical and spectacular side of the score.
The evening is saved by the fine vocal cast and the careful orchestral direction of Francesco Pasqualetti, who manages to get the best out of the Italian philharmonic orchestra, which is not always precise and compact, highlighting the Wagnerian symphonism of the score as well as the ironic and innovative accents of the 'scapigliato' Boito.
Boito not only attempts new music for his time, but also does a great job of adapting Goethe's Faust, taking not only the first part with the tragic love story between Faust and Marguerite, but also inserting excerpts from the far more complex and philosophical Faust part two. Curiously he titles the opera Mefistofele, creating the iconic and mocking devilish character who '...thinks evil and does good'. (“…pensa il mal e fa il ben”) A 'good devil' after all, who often arouses more than one sympathy and is the undisputed leading character of the opera.
In Modena, Mefistofele was performed by the Korean bass Simon Lim, who displayed a wide and well timbred voice, easy in the high notes and well controlled in the low notes, which would benefit from more sonority. All in all, a very good performance for him, the artist is in fact endowed with a definite magnetism and a fairly good stage presence that made him present to the character and sufficiently convincing even in a very static staging like the one seen at the Pavarotti Theatre.
A real surprise was Paolo Lardizzone's Faust, who took over to replace the ill Antonio Poli. The Sicilian tenor surprises with his vocal flamboyance, his easy ascent to high notes, and his well-projected singing, always on the breath, which allows him to delineate the character of Faust appropriately. Truly a convincing performance for him, greeted indeed by much applause.
Marta Mari's performance in the double part of Margherita and Elena was also good. The soprano shows off a calibrated and well-managed voice, lacking, however, in charisma and self-confidence, particularly in the scene of the classical Sabbath. The other performers were professional.
Direction, sets and costumes are by Enrico Stinchelli. The financial narrowness of the production appears manifest, but the director does not manage to mask it with meaningful ideas, limiting himself to didactically illustrating the demands of the libretto with the overwhelming presence of screen images that are for the most part merely descriptive.
If in truth the 'Prologue in Heaven' is altogether pleasant in a succession of images of planets, stars, and galaxies, scenes such as 'Easter Sunday', 'The Pact', and 'The Garden' slip into the most banal mannerism without the vague costumes or the mostly static staging coming to the rescue.
As for the large ensemble scenes such as 'The Night of the Sabbath' and 'The Night of the Classic Sabbath', the disposition of both chorus and singers is marked by absolute immobility, practically a costume concert, to which the ballets performed by the acerbic young disciples of the MM Contemporary Dance Company do not come to the aid.
In overall terms, the overlapping images tend to vary too quickly, often creating confusion, mixing contemporary references, such as the concentration camps and the virus during Mefistofele's famous 'World' ballad, with recalls that depict, moreover with an approximate expertise of video technique, exactly what is mentioned in the libretto.
A missed chance, in short, to give also dramatic and not only vocal prominence to Boito's beautiful and still modern score.
At the end of the evening a definite success for all the performers.
Raffaello Malesci (9 October 2022)