Roland Schwab directs Boito’s Mefistofele

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Mefistofele
PERFORMER: René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Karine Babajanyan, Heike Grötzinger, Andrea Borghini, Rachael Wilson, Joshua Owen Mills; Bavarian State Orchestra/Omer Meir Wellber; dir. Roland Schwab (Munich, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 739208; Blu-ray: 739304


Boito’s opera is not only one of the most ambitious produced by any 19th-century Italian composer, but also one of the most impressive attempts ever made to set Goethe’s Faust to music. Yet with its vast scope and range it’s inevitably somewhat diffuse, and certainly a tough nut to crack in the theatre on those rare occasions when a company is prepared to commit to the substantial project of staging it.

This new version, in which the clarity of the visuals on the DVD are surpassed by those on the Blu-ray version, was recorded in Munich in November 2015 and perpetuates what was then a production by the German opera director Roland Schwab. His approach is likely to dismay traditionalists but nevertheless possesses an integrity and power commensurate with the piece. Piero Vinciguerra’s monolithic set and Renée Listerdal’s costumes present a largely bleak and occasionally confused vision, or as Karina Saligmann – the writer of the liner notes – suggests, a dim and apocalyptic atmosphere, replete with sinister pleasure-seekers in an S&M club and threatening mobs. It also has its fair share of directorial clichés, and there’s a sense that the principals have been slotted into a concept rather than even semi-independently exploring their roles.

The cast, nevertheless, is about as good as one could come up with. René Pape revels in the grotesque vocal grandeur of his suited and booted Mefistofele, with Joseph Calleja offering a thoughtful, sweet-toned Faust, painfully aware of the wrong turns he takes on his road to eventual salvation. Kristine Opolais is a powerful Margherita, if dressed far too opulently for the libretto’s simple village maiden. Karine Babajanyan makes an alternately suave and haunted Helen of Troy, while the Munich chorus and orchestra perform with enthusiasm and to considerable effect under the focused baton of Omer Meir Wellber.


George Hall