My plan coming to Munich to see Mefistofele by previously undiscoved composer Arrigo Boito, whom I have known as librettist for last operas of Verdi: Falstaff and Otello, was mostly driven by weekend performance date to fit the work schedule. It did not come to my mind that this particular weekend – last day of October and first day of November happens to coincide with Halloween. This was immediately obvious upon my arrival, as on the train into town there were quite many people dressed up for the festivities and in celebration mood. This time my flight schedule brought me into Munich on Friday night with no opera performance planned, and probably it was first time since my opera travels started, that I had an opportunity to walk around town and enjoy atmosphere with crowds of youngsters in costumes and scary make-up, people roaming the streets and beer breweries, cheering and laughter. Approaching Platzl on my way back to the hotel, conveniently located just across the street from impressive National theater, and looking for a passage entrance, I met eye to eye with Mefistofele, or, more precise, the great artist who is the best impersonator of Mefistofele I have ever seen – René Pape. Since the first time I have seen and heard him as Mefistofele in Gounod’s Faust at Royal Opera House a few years ago, he is indisputably the best interpreter of the role. So, being caught unprepared, I have only smiled and greeted him, receiving polite and a bit surprised acknowledgement back, and loosing my peace of mind for another day – till performance of Arrigo Boito’s only opera, based on Goethe’s tragedy “Faust”.
As expected, the music of the opera was in line with Grand Opera tradition, the production was breathtaking and the cast delivered flawless performance.
Roland Schwab has created staging that is at the same time contemporary, modern, and also timeless, without specific indication of respective time period . The effects of hellish proportions with moving stage and a lot of extras involved at some moments created a bit too crowded picture which pushed music and artists for a moment out of center of attention. Nevertheless, the concept and ideas of monumental proportions are supporting the libretto and music in a great way and certainly bring audience into eternal debate of good and evil, right and wrong and inescapable decisions to be made by everyone based on the value system established.
Omer Meir Wellber conducted the orchestra energetically and provided nuanced and intelligent reading of the score, keeping orchestra, singers and chorus in perfect balance.
The cast for the production is outstanding, promising artistically impeccable performance both vocally and dramatically – besides René Pape as Mefistofele there is Joseph Calleja as Faust, Kristīne Opolais as Margherita and Karine Babajanyan as Elena.
Joseph Calleja interprets Faust also in traditional Gounod’s Faust, and I have seen him performing in the same ROH production mentioned before, together with Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Sonya Yoncheva. His delivery of the role is characterized by impeccable, pitch perfect singing, while in this particular performance I would have loved a bit more emotional contact with Margherita. Probably it has been director’s intent to make their love story as fleeting moment with over-romanticized props of blossoming cherry tree appearing and disappearing at once. Kristīne Opolais as Margherita delivered great acting in mad scene, while vocally I perceived her singing as too much in Puccini style, and probably there is nothing wrong with that, as amount of despair and suffering in the role is of immense proportions. As per her interview for Latvijas radio 3 Klasika on the day of premiere, she said that she has consciously distanced herself from being absorbed by the role, as suffering of mother losing her child is too overbearing.
René Pape is actual impersonation of Mefistofele, his cynical and arrogant character dominates the stage for the whole performance, even when he is not actually on the stage. The laid-back, and at the same time dominant presence, ever in control of everything going on, from stage sign “Open” to “Sold out” (or “Back in 30 minutes”), to vocally overwhelming delivery of the part, inescapably makes you hostage of this charming devil, so I am still bewitched and looking forward to staatsoper.tv streaming on November 15th to relive and enjoy this outstanding performance once more. Take your chance, and do not miss such opportunity!
Composer Arrigo Boito
Conductor Omer Meir Wellber
Director Roland Schwab
Sets Piero Vinciguerra
Costumes Renée Listerdal
Lights Michael Bauer
Video Lea Heutelbeck
Mefistofele René Pape
Faust Joseph Calleja
Margherita Kristine Opolais
Marta Heike Grötzinger
Wagner Andrea Borghini
Elena Karine Babajanyan
Pantalis Rachael Wilson
Nerèo Joshua Owen Mills
Chorus and children’s chorus of the Bayerische Staatsoper