- 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: 18 customer reviews
- ASIN: B00MU00G9S
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,209 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele
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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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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.
Ramon Vargas is less of a spinto than O'Neill, more a pure lyric tenor and, after a scratchy opening scene, he dispenses a seemingly endless supply of blandishing, liquid tone. He also makes a convincing switch from the stiff-gaited, prudish Faust of the first act to the ardent pleasure-seeker of the remainder of the opera. I don't understand the carping about Vargas' appearance: He's always looked as he does here and, besides, few tenors today can rival him for quality of vocalism. Patricia Racette does make a few concessions to age (or a too-heavy mix of repertory) in the form of a pronounced 'beat' when signing high at forte. In other words, it's not as pristine a sound as Benackova's. For the most part, though, Racette is as passionate and personal an interpreter as always, excelling both as a Method actress (as the deranged Margherita) and a Classical tragedienne (as Helen of Troy).
Nicola Luisotti is marked improvement over predecessor Maurizio Arena, combining a Toscanini-like grandeur in scenes like the opening 'Prologue in Heaven' with scampering wit in Boito's scherzando episodes, and he has the San Francisco Opera Orchestra sounding like a world-class band. The only substantial caveat for sensitive viewers is that there's frontal nudity, and quite a lot of it, in the witches' sabbath scene. Consider yourself warned.
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