Magazine article Musical Opinion

English National Opera's Mefistofeles

Magazine article Musical Opinion

English National Opera's Mefistofeles

Article excerpt

We should pace the violently hostile press reaction to ENO's new production of Boito 's Mefistofeles, which I saw at the Coliseum on 26 March, for it remains a work to be reckoned with and has far too much vitality to be extinguished at reviewers' whims. The big choral episodes are handled by the composer with magnificent, almost Mahlerian effect while his grotesque, piquant orchestration depicts to a nicety the Satanic forces at the core of the drama. The title role is a superb vehicle for a charismatic bass and, if short on melody, compensates with a mesmer ic, almost Russified repetitiveness which helps explain the success of so many Slavonic singers in the part. My parents used to speak with bated breath of Chaliapin as Boito's Devil. It is true, of course, that Boito's Faust and Margherita lack the sensuousness of their equivalents in French settings of the story and he might have been wiser to have concentrated of Goethe's Elena of Troy episode and avoided invidious comparisons with Berlioz and Gounod.

The critics who scarified the work were also quick to condemn the jokiness of lan Judge's production but, extravagant as this often was, I found, that it did not jar, perhaps because an operatic Mefistofeles is somehow most effective when presented as a comic, or semi-comic, character, as Bernard Shaw once pointed out when reviewing Maurel's over-serious stage Devil. I was able to accept a Lucifer who climbed down a ladder from a sidebox, swung on a rope during Faust's Dai campi and took over the musical direction of the Witches' Sabbath, while his four unscripted attendant Imps never got in the way. …

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