Tuesday April 9th, 7:30 p.m. Bring-a-Friend Night
An opera in a prologue, four acts and an epilogue
by Arrigo Boito (1842-1918)
to his own libretto after Johann Wolfgang van Goethe’s play Faust
Premièred at Teatro alla Scala, Milan on 5 March 1868
A 2015 production from Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction by Roland Schwab
Set Design by Piero Vinciguerra
Costume Design by Renée Listerdal
Lighting Design by Michael Bauer
Chorus and children's chorus of the Bayerische Staatsoper
Bayerisches Staatsorchester conducted by Paolo Carignani
What reviewers said about the production
Singing “with clear, strong bass lines” (Deutschlandradio Kultur), René Pape plays Mefistofele as the sardonic leader of a satanic cult. As Faust, his slave, Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja “hits his high notes with formidable vigour” (Financial Times). Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais’s Margherita “shines with understated Grace Kelly elegance” (Opera Today), while as Elena – the fabled Helen of Troy – Armenian soprano Karine Babajanyan “shines with heroic high notes” (Süddeutsche Zeitung). Finally, in the pit, Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber “holds all the musical textures together with admirable control” (BR Klassik)
In heaven, Mefistofele mocks the wretched human race. When confronted by God with the notable exception of Faust, the two make a bet: Mefistofele wants to prove that he is able to undermine this perfect human being’s virtues, thus debunking God’s creation as flawed.
As Faust and his student Wagner are strolling through the busy streets of the town, a dark monk attracts their attention. Back home, Faust is about to devote himself to study the Bible when the monk reappears. It is Mefistofele, introducing himself as “the spirit that denies”. He offers Faust a pact: In exchange for his soul, Mefistofele will fulfill his every wish for the rest of his life. Faust agrees under the condition that he will experience genuine happiness.
Thanks to Mefistofele, Faust has regained his youth and courts Margherita and gains her favor while Mefistofele turns to her neighbor Martha. Faust coerces Margherita to administer her mother a sleeping potion so that the two lovers can meet at night undisturbed. Mefistofele and Faust climb up the Bracken where they celebrate a witches’ sabbath. A vision comes over Faust, showing him a shackled, incarcerated Margherita.
Margherita has poisoned her mother with Faust’s sleeping potion and, in a state of mania, drowned her child. Now, she awaits her execution in prison. When Faust arrives to free her, she turns towards him at first. Yet on Mefistofele’s arrival she realizes the source of all of her sorrows and begs God for forgiveness, whereupon a choir of angels declares her salvation.
Mefistofele takes Faust to Ancient Greece. There, he courts the beautiful Helen whom he manages to win over. They indulge in their happiness.
Faust’s death draws nearer. He reflects upon his life and his quest for true happiness. He tells Mefistofele that he has failed to meet this specific premise of their pact. He realizes that only the love of God leads to true happiness and is thus able to break free from Mefistofele. Redeemed, he ascends into heaven.
NEXT MEETING: Tuesday May 14
PIQUE DAME (Tchaikovsky)
Stefan Herheim's unique 2015 interpretation for The Dutch National Opera
Joseph Calleja as Faust
and Kristine Opolais as Margherita
Click here to watch Bayerische Staatsoper's promotional video of this production
Deep into the darkest depths
Mefistofele - the Italian opera version of Goethe’s Faust Part I and 11 - has secured its legitimate place in the history of opera, despite a disastrously failed world premiere at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala on 5 March 1868. The opera is considered the central link between Verdi and Puccini, a symbol of Renéwal and reformation within the Italian opera - at least that was the composer's noble goal.
Arrigo Boito, author, composer and popular librettist of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff, to name just two, wrote a literary sophisticated and highly philosophical libretto which was in fact based on Faust, but is not exclusively committed to the popular German poet’s masterwork. Boito’s interpretation of the famous tragedy is characterized by an emancipation from the original material, an incredible musical and dramaturgical power, as well as a multitude of contrasts. Although the focus of the opera lies more on Mefistofele than on Faust, just as does its literary template, it deals with the duality of good and evil, the notion of human responsibility, and the quest for salvation.
Boito and Verdi in 1892
The unfortunate premiere was conducted by the composer himself and flopped probably because the audience rejected Boito as a person, not so much his music. He thereupon revised and shortened his opera drastically and staged the new version for the first time at the Teatro Communale in Bologna on 4 October 1875, thus establishing it successfully on the European stages. It was to remain the only opera he ever finished.
Roland Schwab’s staging at the Bayerische Staatsoper with first-class soloists René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais and Karine Babajanyan as the main cast features a dim and apocalyptic atmosphere, letting the audience delve deep into the darkest depths of the human being. However, Roland Schwab found it essential "that we don’t sell nor give away the devil to caricature, but bestow upon him a demonic quality that in this form is rarely found on the opera stage". This sentiment is reinforced and maintained by Omer Meir Wellber's outstanding conducting skills. The production is furthermore shaped by Schwab’s focus on the form, or as he would put it: "Nightmares need form and logic in order for the points to painfully come across."
- Abendzeitung München