- Actors: San Francisco Opera, Patricia Racette, Nicola Luisotti, Ildar Abdrazakov, Ramón Vargas
- Directors: Frank Zamacona
- Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, NTSC
- Language: Italian
- Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Korean
- Region: All Regions
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Number of discs: 2
- Rated: Not RatedNR
- Studio: EuroArts
- DVD Release Date: September 30, 2014
- Run Time: 140 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
- ASIN: B00MU00G9S
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,631 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele (Featuring the San Francisco Opera)
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The season kicks off with Boitos resplendent retelling of Goethes Faust, a monumental work of 'choral grandeur and melodic richness' (The New York Times) in one of the most impressive productions ever seen at the War Memorial Opera House. The cast includes Ramón Vargas, a tenor 'in ravishing voice' (Financial Times), as the philosopher who sells his soul to the Devil; the 'luminous, compelling' Patricia Racette (Washington Post) as the woman he desires; and, in the vividly menacing title role, the 'seductively malevolent' bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov, a 'fullbodied bass-baritone' renowned for his 'wonderfully evil portrayals' (The New York Times).
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Top Customer Reviews
Samuel Ramey owned the role of Mefistofele. He out acts and out sings Abdrazakov at every turn - indeed, Carsen on the whole has Abdrazakov follow nearly exactly the same stage movements as he did Ramey, such that Abdrazakov comes across a bit of an imitation of Ramey. Let me just say that Abdrazakov is very good, but Ramey was convincingly evil and fabulously funny in the role.
In each production the lead tenor (O'Neill then, Vargas now) sings well but is pleasantly plump and not the image of a young man once his journeys with Mefistofele have begun. Gabriela Benackova (then) and Racette (now) perform the roles of Margareta and Helen of Troy with lovely singing and believable characterization, whether as village maid or Queen of Troy. The duets with the tenor are equally ravishing.
All in all, if you want to see and hear Ramey at his peak in the context of a fine performance, buy the DVD on Kultur. If you want to see and hear the opera as a whole with better sound and somewhat better orchestral playing (I think that Luisotti is a better conductor than Arena) and see and hear slightly better choral singing, you will want the 2014 BR/DVD version. I should emphasize that in this opera the chorus and orchestra play major roles and do not just support or accompany the singers. The Prologue in Heaven can (and sometimes does) stand alone as a concert piece with two sarcastic and wickedly funny arias for Mefistofele tucked in.
Not sure how to decide? Get both versions and become closely acquainted with the opera while enjoying the task of comparing the performances in general and certainly with specific attention to details.
I was fortunate to catch the 1989 San Francisco Opera production, currently available on a regular DVD (Boito - Mefistofele / Arena, Ramey, Benackova, San Francisco Opera). It's still a fond memory, so I looked forward to receiving a Blu-ray review copy of the revival that took place in late 2013. As expected, the 16:9 (full HDTV screen) high-definition picture does a much better job of capturing the colorful production, which seems traditional by today's standards, despite the nudity.
First, let's consider the revival on its own merits.
Ildar Abdrazakov is an effective, barrel-chested Mefistofele, with a velvety baritonal voice. Ramon Vargas seems unusually placid as Faust -- there's little of the passion or anguish you'd expect from someone who's bet his soul. Vocally he's fine, albeit underpowered, particularly in his upper register. He fully comes into his own, though, in the final scene, where his lyrical approach pays off. Patricia Racette, on the other hand, is a fully committed performer throughout and sings both Margherita and Elena well, despite some pushed high notes.
The audio is very good -- be sure to switch from the PCM stereo default to DTS 5.1 surround sound. One caveat: The soloists' voices aren't quite as forward as one would expect, particularly Vargas'. The chorus in this gloriously chorus-heavy opera sounds spectacular. The orchestra, conducted by Nicola Luisotti, sounds great too.
The picture quality is also very good, although a notch less sharp than other recent classical Blu-rays I've seen.
It's only when you compare this revival to the 1989 production that it comes up short. Samuel Ramey was born to play Mefistofele, and his voice is thrilling from top to bottom. Dennis O'Neill is passionate and, despite his Welsh background, couldn't sound more Italianate in phrasing (unlike Vargas, who sometimes seems to have wandered in from Gounod's French version). Gabriela Benackova has a beautiful voice that absolutely blooms in the upper reaches, and she acts nearly as well as Racette. To cap it all off, Maurizio Arena's conducting is more propulsive, which helps de-emphasize the opera's rougher patches.
But it's a 25-year-old performance, so the DVD image is much less sharp and smaller (4:3), and the sound (though clear and favoring the soloists more) is limited to stereo.
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