Boito's opera is certainly the least successful of all the adaptations inspired by that cornerstone of Western literature,
Goethe's Faust. Poor Boito was hardly in the same league as Berlioz, Gounod or Liszt. Although it has great sense of theatre,
a very good libretto, it lacks good, hummable tunes the likes of
Gounod's Faust. It is an awkward, long winded work and had to be revised several times.
Boito tried too hard to include as much as possible of Goethe's
metaphysical play searching for the great unanswered questions like man's purpose on earth, his relation to God, Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell etc. It is hard to tell if Boito has
And yet, the opera survived, not the least due to this magnificent production, and came through with flying colours. There is much to admire here: a highly imaginative concept, some great singing and very sympathetic conducting by Maurizio Arena.
He seems in love with the score and it shows.
In the title role, Samuel Ramey dominates the performance, his voice is worthy follower of all the great singers of this role like Feodor Chaliapin and Boris Christoff. His acting is mesmerizing. Secondly, Gabriela Benackova, with a beatiful voice and wonderful characterization is truly impressive in the tragic role of Margherita. As Faust, Dennis O'Neill is somewhat less memorable, but with an attractive voice.
The opera, unfortunately, is not immediately appealing, but it gets better as it goes along. After a bit rocky first act, the second act quartet and subsequent love duet are already quite good, while the third act is very highly inspired.
Great highlights are the Prologue in Heaven with its bemasked Seraphim in a silver and blue Baroque theatre setting; the ingenious double choruses in Walpurgis Night (conducted here in a
tongue in cheek manner by our protagonist, Ramey); the very moving Prison scene where Benackova shines, and the Epilogue.
Outstanding, very enjoyable DVD. Highly recommendable.