Sunday, 1 November 2015

Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele - Bayerische Staatsoper 

Performance 29th October 

As a highlight already at the beginning of the season the Bavarian State Opera came up with their first production of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele in the history of this prestigious theatre. The opera is adapted from Goethe’s Faust I and II.
Very suitable for the home of the „spirit that always denies“ Roland Schwab’s staging starts in a nihilistic chaos of wreckages where Mefistofele lives with his own kind and begins the opera by himself by putting on a gramophone record. This seems like a witty idea considering that the whole action of the drama is initiated by the devil who makes a bet with god. Piero Vinciguerra is accountable for the gripping scenery that never disturbed the music, even at the very dynamic, visual thrilling Walpurgis Night, when the floor under the dancing witches divided in three areas moves up and down while big fountains spew fire.
Also the concept of a stage that belongs to Mefistofele who plays with the humans as puppets that only move in a prison of their lowest desires for the devil’s amusement and get seduced to drinking, debaucheries, raping and killing, was very exciting and clarified by the huge wave-shaped grids on the left and the right of the stage as an implied prison. The grids stay there for the whole opera, surrounding the Oktoberfest, the table, where Faust sits together with Margherita and seduces her, the Walpurgis Night, the dungeon, where Margherita is held captive after killing her mother and her child and the mental home, where Faust stays together with Alzheimer’s patients, because he wants to forget the sins he committed.
These grids and the often-present wafts of mist allowed Michael Bauer to do impressing plays with the light, like in the fourth act when the beams of the spotlights created a „M“ through the fog. The production also works with wellimplemented video projections (Lea Heutelbeck) by which impressions are accomplished that go outside the envelope of the stage machinery. For example when Mefistofele and Faust fly through the night on a Motorcycle and behind them you could see the fast moving eye of the camera on a huge screen flying between skyscrapers.
It was absolutely fascinating how much pathos Omer Meir Wellber carried from the score into the musical performance of the orchestra. The finale of the Epilogue was performed with a maximum of volume and energy. It seemed very convincing and not disturbing that at the end of the opera the huge sound of the orchestra and choir of angelic hosts and cherubims overlayed Mefistofele’s part in a thrilling way, because the devil is left standing without Faust’s soul, who gets redeemed. Even if the staging was not that explicit about the end and left Faust’s salvation open, Mefistofele gets forced to his knees by the power of this tremendous music that spoke for itself.
Besides the solid casted smaller roles Boito’s Mefistofele contains three main roles that appear as real characters and not just stereotypes of their own. Even if Margherita’s part is not very long, Kristine Opolais sticks in one’s memory with the dungeon scene in the third act. She overwhelmed the audience as the regretting daughter and mother who had killed her own mother to be able to spend a night with Faust and drowned her own baby, the result of this sin, afterwards. After Opolais performed the unidimensional naive girl that gets seduced by Faust in the second act, her voice presents totally different colors while acting completely overcome with hysteria.
Faust’s part is not easy at all with all that high notes and requires a strong voice with a huge stamina. Joseph Calleja was absolutely able to deliver and was reliable at all registers. With his marvellous voice that generated a contrast to the dominating gloominess of the scenery Faust’s soul just had to be saved to sing with the angels.
But the focus in Boito’s opera is set on Mefistofele, as the title suggests it. René Pape gave a stunning Mefistofele and because of his strong but not black voice he also was quite a likeable „spirit that always denies“. In his purple suit, black gloves and red patent-leather shoes he looks like a mafia don, later like a rockstar in his black leather jacket and on his black Harley Davidson-motorcycle, on which he takes Faust on a journey through time and space. Also his acting was very powerful from the beginning when he challenges god very nonchalantly and stays quite lethargic confronting the suffering and loving humans, while at the end with the insight that he only managed to help saving a soul by trying to seduce it once again, he plays himself into madness.
9 Stars for a musical excellent performance with a dream cast and an exciting staging of this (unjustly) rarely performed opera!
Reviewed by Lukas Leipfinger

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