My fascination with Faust never ends, fuelled again by Arrigo Boito Mefistofele at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Joseph Calleja, René Pape, Kristine Opolais star - what more could one ask? But listen, too, to the superb choir , central to this version of Faust, and to the orchestra, conducted by Omer Meir Wellber. READ HERE MY FULL REVIEW of bthe production.
In the Prologue in Heaven the choir sing reverently, but suddenly the music turns quirky, running along with fast footsteps, a good way to usher in Mefistofele. René Pape is magisterial, absolutely confident. He's challenging God for the soul of Faust . How cheeky the childrens' choir sounds, even though they're singing pious homilies. Calleja, too, is in fine form, almost too luxuriantly Italianate to be an ascetic old scholar, but his singing shows why Boito revised the work for Bologna in 1875. Calleja's lively tenor suggests the sensuality that Faust must have been repressing inside all his life . Calleja makes one wonder what turned the young Faust into a desiccated ascetic. His tragedy might well have started long before we meet him in his old age. Calleja's bright, ringing tones also evoke the excitement which has motivated Faust's lifelong search for knowledge. No wonder he can't resist what Mefistofele might have to show him. In his dialogue with Margherita (Kristine Opolais), Calleja nails, and holds, stratospheric heights. Outsinging a great soprano takes some doing. The trio at the end of the scene sparks with tension : Faust and Margherita are swept up in the sharp, dotted rhythms that mark Mefistofele's music.
The Walpurgisnacht scene is demonic: sharp woodwind flurries suggesting hellfire, perhaps, or moonlight? Calleja and Pape sing in tight lockstep "Folletto ! Folleto!". The manic staccato theme is taken up by the chorus, which then switches to quiet whisper, while the orchestra creates the sprightly "hellfire" motif, first in the woodwinds, then through the celli and basses. The brightness of Calleja's voice contrasts well with Pape's, whose voice grows darker and more malevolent now that Faust is his realm. The final chorus whips along with crazed energy: the witches are dancing wildly before the "flames" in the orchestra. "Sabba, Sabba, Saboè!"
Back on earth, Opolais sings L'altra notte in fondo al mare and what follows with great emotional depth. Her Margherita is a woman steeled by suffering When she and Calleja sing Lontano, lontano, lontano, they bring out tenderness and tragedy, beauty and pain. Opolais sings the Spunta, l'aurora pallida with such calm heroism that Calleja's O strazio crudel! tears at the heart. Opolais's purity contrasts pointedly with the singing of Elena (Karine Babajanyan) In the orchestra we hear the exquisite harp sequence, setting the tone for the love duet between Elena and Faust that will follow. The harmony, though, is but a dream. Faust is back in his study, dimly lit, as we might imagine from the quiet murmurs in the orchestra. Perhaps the dawn is coming, though. "Cammina, cammina" Mefistofele calls. This time, Faust fights back. Calleja sings with undecorated, but heroic firmness. "Faust !Faust!" Pape cries, but his prey has slipped from his grasp. The chorus returns, in full, glorious voice with orchestra in full glory. Even René Pape is no match.
This Mefistofele can be heard audio only on BR Klassik for a limited period - recommended ! It's good. On 15th November, the full video will be broadcast on Staatsoper.tv. Details here.