When Faust, such a preferable personality to Santa, sings his
goodbye to this planet, a vision of peace and plenty flows from
him in rapturous melody.
In a gorgeous aria from Arrigo
Boito’s “Mefistofele,” he imagines himself king of a world
It will speak to all who look
yearningly at a new year as the tribulations of the past
evaporate with the season’s fuzzy warmth.
This is one of
my favorite operas, up there with “Andrea Chenier,” “La
Gioconda” and “Adriana Lecouvreur.”
An epic work spanning
heaven and earth, “Mefistofele” is far stranger, more searching
and mystical than the cloyingly obvious “Faust” by Gounod,
currently playing in a monotonous new production at the
Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Recent albums by two of
the greatest tenors roaming the world these days, Jonas
Kaufmann, 42, and Joseph Calleja, 33, reminded me of the glories
Kaufmann shows off his dark-hued voice
on a Decca album called “Verismo Arias” (which refers loosely to
the blood-and- guts repertoire of the late 19th century).
“Mefistofele” was Boito’s only finished opera: he
remains known for the librettos he wrote for Verdi, and, more
importantly, as far as I’m concerned, the story for Ponchielli’s
nonstop entertainment, “La Gioconda.”
With its grand
parade of gesturing characters -- especially the blind old mom
who almost gets burned at the stake -- “Gioconda” is the kind of
opera that drives high-minded purists to foam at the mouth. It
makes me happy to be alive.
Kaufmann (and his conductor,
the galvanizing Antonio Pappano) capture the intensity of Enzo’s
“Cielo e Mar,” with its dreamy beginning and surging end, as the
boat captain imagines the arrival of his mistress.
unusual that a voice so dark moves so smoothly and powerfully
into the top register. And all the while Kaufmann’s intelligence
shines through the music to illuminate the text.
listen to his delivery of Andrea Chenier’s denunciation of
France’s peruked one-percenters at the cusp of the French
Revolution. His voice rising in anger, Chenier describes his
encounters with venal priests, pitiful beggars, uncaring nobles.