The Devil Doesn't Get His Due
by Joel Kasow
- Mefistofele has always suffered from bad press, yet it remains a unique
experience when a great conductor and great singers come together with
unity of purpose. I have experienced the work in the theater where Antonino
Votto, a supreme hack, couldn't make the piece come to life despite a cast
which included Boris Christoff, Ilva Ligabue, Carlo Bergonzi and an unlikely
Christa Ludwig as Helen of Troy.
Here it is a dynamic Riccardo Muti who is let down by his cast, presumably
all his choices as the La Scala origins of the recording would lead us
to conclude. Muti is now far more willing to relax into the music than
he used to be, but Vincenzo La Scola's unpleasant sounds and Michèle
Crider's pronounced vibrato and lack of individuality in both the female
roles are major handicaps.
Samuel Ramey in the title role gives us the benefit of his personality,
with better vocal equipment than Norman Treigle on an old EMI recording
with Domingo and Caballé, but his is hardly the lush voice which
used to be standard for the role.
Even though there is a precedent set by the composer (ignored until
recently) to have one soprano for both roles, their characteristics are
so different that - expensive as it may be for an opera house or recording
company - two singers would normally be a better choice. So we are left
with Muti and the La Scala forces on a good night, despite a few moments
where things go astray, which is not enough to save a barnstormer of an
Mefistofele, Samuel Ramey; Faust, Vincenzo La Scola;
Margharita/Elena, Michèle Crider; Marta/Pantalis, Eleonora Jankovic;
Wagner/Nereo, Ernesto Gavazzi.
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala.
Riccardo Muti, conductor.
Recorded live at La Scala on 3, 5 and 8 March 1995.
RCA 09026 68284 2 (2cds)
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