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Arrigo BOITO (1842 – 1918) Mefistofele - Great Scenes
Mefistofele – Cesare Siepi (bass)
Faust – Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)
Margherita – Renata Tebaldi (soprano)
Marta – Lucia Danieli (mezzo-soprano)
Wagner – Piero de’ Palma (tenor)
Orchestra e coro dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma/Tullio Serafin
rec. Santa Cecilia, Rome, 17 June – 6 July 1958 ELOQUENCE 482 4757 [73:55]
This is a remarkable and rather strange recording. The opera itself has had a rather chequered history, never quite achieved standard repertoire status but been a popular vehicle for prominent basses to show off their dramatic/histrionic capacity. It has also been recorded a number of times, the earliest a Columbia set from 1931 with Nazzareno de Angelis in the title role and a young Mafalda Favero as Margherita. In the fifties Cetra recorded it with Giulio Neri a black-voiced Mefistofele opposite Ferruccio Tagliavini’s Faust, and EMI could boast Boris Christoff as the Devil with Vittorio Gui conducting. Then in 1958 Decca launched the first stereo version, which was unchallenged for fifteen years, and then Norman Treigle, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Samuel Ramey and Ferruccio Furlanetto with starry casts have entered the field. The Decca was recorded in June/July 1958 with the above cast, but when it was issued in April 1959 the tenor was not Di Stefano but Decca’s regular tenor hero Mario Del Monaco. He had recorded his role between 24 August and 3 September 1958 and the reason for this has never been confirmed. Anyway fifteen years later Decca issued generous excerpts from the opera and then Di Stefano’s essays were finally unearthed.
The choice of Di Stefano for the role of Faust seemed a natural one. He was one of the finest lyrical tenors of the period, the self-evident heir to Beniamino Gigli and Ferruccio Tagliavini – who both excelled in the role and in Gigli’s cast it was his great break-through in 1915. Mario Del Monaco’s, on the other hand, was a quite different type of voice, a tenore robusto with enormous power and brilliance but with little feeling for lyrical beauty and elegance. Maybe the record company regarded him as the safer name for commercial reasons, while Di Stefano had shown signs of decline after taking on too heavy roles too early.
Of this there are however very few signs. Sediam sovra quell sasso (tr. 3) at the beginning of Act I finds him in excellent voice, lyrical and beautiful, and the well-known aria Dai campi dai prati that follows (tr. 4) is certainly Gigli-like. He is also able to muster some dramatic power at the end of the act with a glowing Se tu mi doni (tr. 7). In duet with Tebaldi, Lontano, lontano, lontano (tr. 13), we are treated to some really ravishing lyrical singing with magical pianissimos from both singers. In the Epilogo, together with the magnificent Siepi, he is also great. Giunto sul passo estremo (tr. 17) distinctly removes every suspicion of vocal decline: Here is both virile intensity and lyrical beauty. He is definitely much closer to the ideal than Del Monaco’s undoubtedly glorious but hardly subtle singing.
The excerpts rightly focus on Faust/Di Stefano and I believe that all of the role is included. But the other two main characters also get their due and in particular Cesare Siepi is absolutely magnificent. This is possibly the most formidable singing and acting he ever did on records – and I don’t forget his legendary Don Giovanni and Figaro, nor the other Méphistophélès, in Gounod’s Faust. Renata Tebaldi is of course also superb and few have sung L’altra notte (tr. 11) with such lovely tone – and such power at the climax. Tullio Serafin judges tempos and nuances so skilfully and it is hard to believe that the recording was made as early as 1958. It is quite overwhelming.
Di Stefano’s many admirers should definitely hear this disc, but anyone who is satisfied with scenes from this slightly uneven opera will find lots to admire. And I still wonder why Del Monaco was called in to “rescue” the recording.
1. Preludio [5:48]
2. Ave, Signor degli angeli e dei santi! [3:30]
3. Sediam sovra quell sasso [6:31]
4. Dai campi dai prati [3:32]
5. Che baccano! [1:18]
6. Sono lo spirit che nega [4:36]
7. Se tu mi doni un’ora di riposo [3:55]
8. Cavaliero illustre e saggio [5:09]
9. Dimmi se credi, Enrico, nella religione [4:21]
10. Dio clemente, nuova, ignara son [1:54]
11. L’altra notte in fondo al mare [7:49]
12. Dio di pietà! Son essi! [4:33]
13. Lontano, lontano, lontano [2:15]
14. Sorge il di! [1:50]
15. Spunta l’aurora pallida [3:24]
16. Cammina, cammina ... [4:41]
17. Giunto sul passo estremo [5:04]
18. Ave Signor, Signor degli angeli [3:24]
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