We don't get to see recordings like this issued anymore
Rosomax | Boulder, CO United States | 11/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In our day and age when corporate interests, contracts, and big egos prevail over the interests of Art, can anyone imagine a collaboration of four megastars for a complete opera recording? The most we're ever likely to get is a tired husband-and-wife cutesy that EMI supplies in abundance lately - a venture that attests to corporate interests before anything else. However, back in 1985, when Decca wasn't busy recording another installment of the Watson tragedies, it issued this incredible complete recording of Boito's most known opera with two leading lyric sopranos - Montserrat Caballé and Mirella Freni as Helen of Troy and Marguerite respectively. To make the set better still, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Luciano Pavarotti, both in very good voice, are cast as Mephistopheles and Faust. Sadly, this recording wasn't available for the longest time, and people turned to inferior versions instead. Well, you have got to hurry and get this set before it becomes unavailable once again. 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."
G. Golding | Seattle, WA | 04/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a vastly underrated opera. Filled with some of the most beautifully melodic music, this recording is a must for all Italian opera lovers. Yes, the story may lack focus, with a rather strange trip to Helen of Troy in the last act.
The orchestra is in top shape under the baton with Fabritiis. He conducts with strength and sweep.
Freni is the star here. In her long scene in act II she sounds like the crazed Margarita, full of passion, anger, tenderness and great breath control. She is so dramatic, dropping into chest register frequently, never covered by the orchestra as so many sopranos are (who don't use chest). Her spoken "Taci" in act II gives me shivers and goose bumps. The death scene is breath-taking!
Pavarotti also gives a magnificent recording, done well before he sang as if he doesn't care. Golden tone and excellent diction help him build the character of Faust. He and Freni blend beautifully in their "Lontano" duet, some of the most incredible singing I've ever heard.
Ghiaurov sings very well, as well. His voice is HUGE and so well suited to devils. A few moments of strain add to the dominance of the character.
Caballe is Elena of Troy. I've never been a great fan of her singing but she is dramatic and passionate. Her duet with Pavarotti is one of my favorite all time melodies that always makes me smile. Her high C at the end is less that perfect (I wish Freni had taken the role as well).
Great recording of a great opera! Highly recommended"
A discovery of pleasure
El de la Pira | Barcelona, Spain | 08/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I found this opera becuase I was tracking Caballe's recordings... Alas! I listened to it once, and twice and a million times! I didn't know anything about this opera and it is now one of my favorites... I've read about its shortcomings, etc... Who cares! It has the geat prologue, the coral parts, and the great solos and duets... Everything is here if one wants to enjoy, I guess.
This was my first MEFISTOFELE, I got many more afterwards, but I keep coming back to this and to the DVD from San Francisco Opera (thanks for that visual feast!).
What can I say about the singers here? First rate! Sound is great too."