Presented at Baden-Baden’s Pentecost Festival, this production of Boito’s Mefistofele captured the hearts of both audiences and critics—a rare feat! The success was unmistakably due in great part to the presence of Erwin Schrott—already celebrated for his performance as a seductive, witty, and diabolical Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust. The masterfully subtle Charles Castronovo incarnates the disillusioned philosopher Faust, who makes a deal with the devil. Philipp Himmelmann’s staging combines simple elements (a stage curtain made of silvery filaments and a giant protean skull) to incredible effect to tell the story of Goethe’s Faust.
Centered around the antagonistic character of Mephistopheles, this Italian opera alternates between the lyricism of Verdi—for whom Boito wrote the librettos of Othello and Falstaff—and the ambitious “gesamtkunstwerk” of Wagner in which the composer is his own librettist. The only completed opera that the Italian composer ever wrote, Mefistofele was celebrated by critics and received standing ovations from its audiences. Going toe to toe with Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust (1846) and Gounod’s Faust (1859), Boito’s Mefistofele was an artistic breath of fresh air in a century when, between Verdi and Wagner, everything seemed to have already been done.