OPERA NEWS - Mefistofele
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In Review > North America


The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Metfistofele hdl 219
Devil-may-care attitude: Christian Van Horn and Michael Fabiano in the Met’s Mefistofele
© Johan Elbers

ON NOVEMBER 8, the Met revived Boito’s Mefistofele, dormant at this address since 2000. Robert Carsen’s highly theatrical, carnivalesque production—with brilliant, colorful designs by Michael Levine—was launched thirty years ago in Geneva and has been seen at many of America’s major theaters. The Carsen staging still provides an evening’s entertainment and a plausibly ironic take on Boito’s work—one distinctly less dark than City Opera’s famed Tito Capobianco staging from 1969, devised for Norman Treigle and strikingly reanimated by Samuel Ramey, who later proved the fulcrum for Carsen’s production. Paula Suozzi handled the present revival capably enough, though it’s hard to escape the sense of something reheated with such a veteran if lavish show.

From the initial brass entries on, conductor Carlo Rizzi, the Met orchestra and the cast—all tackling their roles onstage for the first time, hardly an ideal circumstance for a Metropolitan Opera performance—were still feeling their way, though they showed clear promise for a higher standard later in the run. The best and most confident element was Donald Palumbo’s chorus, which has a great deal to do in this staging and did it magnificently. Anthony Piccolo’s children’s chorus also performed with freshness and impressive ensemble, if with rather Americanized Italian vowels. 

Ramey is a hard act to follow in this tailor-made staging: the only singer I’ve seen pull it off completely was Ildar Abdrazakov, at San Francisco Opera in 2013. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, the Met’s latest Mefistofele, is handsome, highly musical and a capable vocalist; he was ideal in Opera Philadelphia’s Lucia this past September. I’ve heard Van Horn many times ace Handel and Mozart roles in Chicago, Santa Fe and Boston. Though he went through Mefistofele’s motions with good humor and professionalism, Van Horn lacked, in this context, a true “star” instrument or presence. His singing, while smooth and well phrased, sounded fairly monochrome and artificially darkened. At a few key heavy moments, he resorted to parlando. This was a good job—but Van Horn’s Mefistofele does not yet have the needed wattage. 

Michael Fabiano, the Faust, came closest of the principals to meeting Boito’s demands. He appeared bald as the elderly Faust—convincingly walking like an old person until he forgot to in the heat of the encounter with his tempter—and in a very becoming wig as the rejuvenated Faust, of whom he made a plausible, pliable and attractive stage figure. At his considerable best, Fabiano was reminiscent of the legacy of Gigli and Di Stefano, but he struggled with the role’s high B-flats and B, which generally emerged loud and flat before he tuned them slightly upward. After a start that stressed full-out singing, Fabiano did find lyricism in much of the score, and his final aria, “Giunto sul passo estremo,” proved genuinely moving. 

It’s rare for a Faust in this opera to project pathos more convincingly than Margherita. Angela Meade’s many virtues include uncommonly good technique (she has the trills for “L’altra notte”) and security throughout the range (one hardly ever hears a Margherita cross so comfortably into chest voice). But morbidezza—the soft, vulnerable sound crucial for roles such as Mimì, Liù and Boito’s betrayed maiden—is not in Meade’s toolbox as a vocalist. The soprano can project rage as Norma or Lucrezia Borgia and was charming and amusing as the Met’s Alice Ford. She tried appreciably to suggest innocence here, but Margherita did not seem a natural fit.

It was good to see Jennifer Check, who has developed increased stage confidence and grace, enact a plausible Helen of Troy. The goddess’s ungrateful music drew mixed results from her strong soprano—also an instrument short on morbidezza, but with some mighty impressive top notes in among some wirier midrange sounds. Tenor Raúl Melo sounded smooth and Italianate in Wagner’s short duties. Theodora Hanslowe made a lively Marta. In her company debut, the gifted American mezzo Samantha Hankey showed her fine timbre as Pantalis. —David Shengold

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