- Audio CD (1 Oct 1999)
- Number of Discs: 3
- Format: Import, Box set
- Label: Decca
- ASIN: B000006M8U
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,747 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
For me personally, the purchase decision was mainly influenced by the fact that conductor Oliviero de Fabritiis cast the most demonic-sounding basso in history - Nicolai Ghiaurov - to sing the title role. Well-known for his several recordings of Gounod's version of the devil, Ghiaurov's recordings of Boito are scarce. His interpretation is of larger-than-life, no-holds-barred type; he fires all the canons of his huge basso for the maximum effect. His Mefistofele is definitely a ruler of its own kind, defiant and triumphant. As the title character, he holds the action together and forcefully propels it forward.
Mirella Freni's gorgeous silky soprano is incredibly suited for the role of Marguerite, Gounod's or Boito's equally. Boito's version is more touching and less rebellious than Gounod's, and there's a great achingly beautiful verismo-style aria "L'altra notte in fondo al mare". She also looks the part, and I can't wait until Decca opens up its vaults and we get to see her Marguerite on video. Freni isn't afraid to make an "ugly" sound when the situation calls for it, Marguerite's plight is vividly depicted and her nobility shines as she resist the love that's tingled with evil.
In a brilliant stroke of luxury casting, Montserrat Caballé (an equally good Marguerite in Rudel's EMI recording) is cast as Helen of Troy. While great diva's heyday is often said to be 1960's and 70's, this 1982 recording finds her in excellent vocal shape, easily gliding over Helena's difficult tessitura. Unlike most of her heroines, Helena is very seductive and even ethereal. Needless to say, Caballé's mesmerizing voice is a perfect vehicle for conveying these qualities of a love goddess.
Luciano Pavarotti's bright silvery tenor can sound a bit too youthful at times to portray a world-wary, chivalrous, and seductive Faust. But he heavily draws on the ardent and cajoling resources (familiar to his fans from "Rigoletto") to present a convincing, if not particularly likable character. Boito deliberately keeps Faust in the shadow of Mephistopheles to show that the latter acts like a puppeteer to the former. It's obvious that Faust cannot resist the devil's temptations and plunges into his new feelings heart and soul. The duet "Lontano, lontano", and aria "Dai campi dai prati" are absolutely lovely and sang gloriously.
A lot of critics said that Act IV seems like a strange add-on and takes away from the opera's central story. Well, with these singers, it makes for a great listening experience, regardless of the Act IV relevance.
Oliviero de Fabritiis works up a storm with National Philharmonic Orchestra, and the choruses are first rate.
The recording is early DDD and it's actually pretty good, save for just a couple of moments when singers' voices overwhelm the equipment. Most buyers' choice will be between this set and EMI budget set with Normal Treigle in title role. While the latter set is very good, it does not have a) digital recording, b) a Helen of Caballé's caliber, c) Nicolai Ghiaurov (although Treigle is an excellent, if smaller, basso), and d) Decca's wonderful presentation with 186-page booklet and slip case. These factors combined swayed this customer in favor of Decca's set.
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