Mefistofele (Legendary Performances)
San Francisco Opera 1989 - Boito's treatment of the Faust legend in Mefistofele has never been as popular as Gounod's, but Boito was an imaginative composer and a great librettist (he wrote the words for Verdi's Otello and Falstaff, two of the finest librettos in Italian opera). As the title suggests, his version puts the spotlight on the diabolical villain of the story at least as much as it's hapless hero. It is a role ideally suited to Samuel Ramey, requiring a rich, deep voice, a striking stage presence and only elementary acting skills. He has taken it to most of the world's great opera houses with spectacular success, and it is good to have it in a first-class video recording. The libretto stands out, among operatic treatments of Faust, for it's effort to capture the full, epic scope of Goethe's drama, including it's moments of unearthly sublimity. The prologue and the conclusion are among opera's most memorable moments of choral grandeur, as this production makes clear. Elsewhere, Boito is witty, colorful and, sometimes, philosophically dry.