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ClassicsOnline Home » BOITO: Mefistofele (de Angelis, Favero, Melandri) (1931)
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)
When the introduction of electrical recording in Europe
began in the latter half of 1925 the Columbia Graphophone Company started a big
push to make new recordings with this system. They began recording in Italy in
March 1926 with the new Westrex electrical system and adopted the prefixes WBX
for 12-inch and WB for 10-inch matrices. Virtually all of the early recordings
were devoted to singers then appearing in Milan, principally at the city’s
world famous opera house, the Teatro alla Scala. However, by the latter part of
1928 the British-owned company felt confident to undertake the recording of
complete operas. The first three were Verdi’s La Traviata, Aida and Puccini’s La
Bohème, all made during November of that year. The initial artistic and
commercial success of this enterprise was such that it was decided to continue
the series of popular operas over the coming years. The world economic
situation following the Wall Street crash in 1929, however, brought about a
dramatic downturn in the fortunes of the recording industry. One result of this
was the amalgamation of both the Columbia and Gramophone companies in April
1931 to form Electric and Musical Industries, now known as EMI Recorded Music.
Naturally existing commitments had to be honoured, either by
making the agreed recordings or by paying off the artists from their contracts.
Happily the demand for Italian opera remained relatively buoyant, so that the
Italian branch of Columbia recorded Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Giordano’s Fedora
(in abbreviated form), Ponchielli’s La Gioconda and Boito’s Mefistofele during
1931. Then, during 1932, Verdi’s Falstaff and Bizet’s Carmen would be made.
After this the series came to an end.
Mefistofele had been performed at La Scala during the
1923-24, 1924-25 and 1927-28 seasons on eight occasions each year but did not
re-appear until 1934-35. The opera was presented fairly regularly, however, in
other Italian opera houses, so the work was in no way unfamiliar. Nevertheless
to record such an opera, especially the very dramatic Prologue must have
presented great problems from the technical point of view. The venue regularly
used by Columbia was situated in Via San Antonio. An internal EMI report, dated
November 1931, stated “the room has proved far from satisfactory as it is too
small, and the acoustics are bad”. Its use was discontinued after March 1932.
The protagonist in the title rôle was the bass Nazzareno de
Angelis, who was born in Rome in 1881 and died there in 1962. As a boy he had
sung in the Choir of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. His début took place in 1903
and his career continued until 1939 when he retired. He was one of the most
distinguished Italian basses of his era and was particularly admired for his
portrayal of Mefistofele, a rôle he sang over five hundred times between 1906
and 1938. He had a repertoire of 57 rôles and made over 1500 appearances. Other
than singing in Chicago during the years 1910-11 and 1915-20, de Angelis’s
career was based in Europe. He was also admired as Rossini’s Mosè and in the principal
Verdi and Wagner rôles. His recording of Mefistofele was his sole complete
recording, although he recorded a considerable number of arias for both
Fonotipia and Columbia.
Antonio Melandri (1891-?) was born in Bologna and first
studied oboe at the city’s conservatorio. Discovering his voice in his late
twenties, he made his début in Novara in 1924. Melandri’s Scala début was as
Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot in 1926 and the following year he sang in Buenos
Aires. In addition to appearances in Holland in 1937-38, Melandri also sang in
Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland and throughout Italy. His other recordings
included Cavalleria Rusticana and abridged versions of Ernani and Fedora.
The soprano Mafalda Favero (1903-1981) studied in Bologna
and made her début at Cremona in 1926 under the name of Maria Bianchi. Her
second début using the name Favero was as Liù in Turandot in Parma the
following year. Success was swift so that she appeared at La Scala in 1928,
remaining there until 1943 and returning once again during the years 1946-50.
Favero sang the rôles of Liù, Norina in Don Pasquale and Zerlina in Don
Giovanni at Covent Garden in the 1937 and 1939 seasons. Her American début was
in 1938 in San Francisco, with two performances of Mimì in La Bohème at the
Metropolitan in New York. Considered an attractive singer with a vibrant and
appealing style, Favero was greatly admired as Manon, Thaïs, Adriana Lecouvreur
and Zazà. She also took part in the premières of Il Campiello (1936) and La
dama boba (1939), both by Wolf-Ferrari.
Giannina Arangi-Lombardi (1891-1951) studied in her native
Naples before first appearing as a mezzo-soprano. The singer’s first appearance
as a soprano took place at La Scala in 1924 where she would perform regularly
until 1930. Her rôles there included Santuzza, Aida, La Gioconda, Leonora in Il
Trovatore and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, the last also sung at the Salzburg
Festival in 1935. Her sole American season was in Buenos Aires in 1926.
Although Arangi-Lombardi possessed a large and beautiful voice, it was thought
that she lacked dramatic fire in her singing. After retiring she taught first
in Milan (1938-47) and then in Ankara until shortly before her death.
Giuseppe Nessi (1889-1961) studied at the Bergamo
Conservatorio before making his début at Saluzzo in 1910. After a short career
as a lyric tenor, he began to specialise in comprimario rôles and became one of
the leading Italian exponents of his generation. Nessi sang at La Scala from
1921 for 38 years, creating there the rôle of Pong in Turandot in 1926 and
Gobrias in Boito’s Nerone. He appeared at Covent Garden in the 1927-29, 1931
and 1937 seasons, returning with La Scala Company in 1950. Nessi’s farewell
performance was as Pinellio in Gianni Schicchi in 1959 in his seventieth year.
He was a fine actor with considerable stage personality.
Emilio Venturini (1878-1952) was another lyric tenor who
changed to comprimario parts after his début in 1900. After appearances in
Paris (1905), Covent Garden (1907), and Chicago (1910-17) he joined
La Scala in 1921, remaining until 1948. Like Giuseppe Nessi
he was also a fine actor with a keen knowledge of singing and singers.
The facts surrounding the career of the conductor Lorenzo
Molajoli are obscure. He was born in Rome in 1868 and studied there at the
Accademia di Santa Cecilia. His career began in 1891 and it would appear that
much of his career prior to the First World War was spent in both North and
South America, South Africa and various provincial Italian opera houses. Claims
have been made that Molajoli conducted at La Scala in the inter-war years but
there is no published documentation to substantiate this assumption. What can
be established is that he served with considerable distinction as the house
conductor in Milan for Columbia, accompanying a large number of singers in
addition to making recordings of a number of operatic overtures. Molajoli
conducted twenty complete or abridged operas for Columbia between 1928 and
1932, a number of which have already been released on Naxos. He died in Milan
on 4th April 1939.
Prologue in Heaven
the Prelude trumpets are heard off-stage.
invisible mystical chorus of angels is heard, through the clouds and mist.
is seen, addressing the angels, excusing his appearance and declaring the folly
a dramatic interlude the angels ask if he knows Faust. Mephistopheles certainly
is aware of Faust’s insatiable search for knowledge and proposes a wager that
he can lure him into his power.
chorus of cherubims sings a vocal scherzo, flying in joy to Heaven, but dreaded
a final psalm a chorus of penitents sings a Salve Regina and Ave Maria, unseen
and joined in song by the cherubim.
Scene 1: Easter Sunday
scene opens by the city gates and ramparts of Frankfurt. Bells ring out for
Easter. Students, citizens and huntsmen take their ways, girls pass by,
singing. Town criers appear with a proclamation, heralded by trumpets, while on
the other side a quack-doctor is seen. Men gather round a beer-seller, while a
grey friar passes by. There is a procession of knights, led by the Elector,
followed by his court ladies, pages and attendants.
and Wagner observe the scene. Wagner has reservations about what he sees,
walking with his master.
crowd of peasants dance in celebration of the festival.
draws on, and Faust suggests that they sit and admire the scene. For Wagner
evening is a time for ghosts. The grey friar is seen again and turns towards
Faust, approaching and seeming to leave a track of fire, as he circles round.
They go out, followed by the friar, while the distant sound of the celebration
Scene 2: The Pact
scene is Faust’s study. Distant voices are heard, as Faust comes in, followed
by the friar, who hides in the study alcove. Faust sees good in his love for
mankind, intending meditation on sacred texts. He puts a book on the lectern,
but is interrupted by a loud cry, as the friar comes out of the alcove, greeted
by Faust. The friar throws off his disguise, revealing himself as
Mephistopheles, dressed as a knight and carrying a black cloak. Faust seeks to
know the identity of his visitor.
declares himself the spirit that denies everything, his aim universal ruin.
sees him as the son of Chaos, and Mephistopheles proposes a bargain: he will
serve Faust in every way, until their positions are reversed below.
consents, in return for one hour in which he may satisfy his desire by seizing the
fleeting moment. Now Mephistopheles promises to obey.
will lead Faust on his new course that very night.
Scene 1: The Garden
now under the name of Enrico, Margherita, Mephistopheles and Martha walk in
couples in a country garden. Margherita asks Faust to tell her why he loves
her, while Mephistopheles makes overtures to Martha.
asks Faust if he believes in religion. Faust’s reply stresses his love for her.
He gives her a phial, a sleeping draught for her mother, so that they may be
together in secret.
two couples, Martha and Mephistopheles in a whisper, express their supposed
feelings, and all is of love, as the scene ends.
Scene 2: Walpurgis Night
scene is a wild and lonely place in the valley of the Schirk, by the hill of
the witches. The moon is rising. On one side is a cavern, and on the other the
peak of Rosstrappe is seen. The wind blows, as Mephistopheles helps Faust to
climb ever higher up the devil’s mountain.
appear and one of them seems to lead them on, guiding them ever higher. They
reach a peak and hear the sound of witches approaching from below. They draw
near and Mephistopheles calls on them to bow down before their king.
calls impatiently for his sceptre and robe, and, donning the latter, proclaims
his ambition to dominate the world. The witches circle round a cauldron and
offer Mephistopheles what he wants.
the Ballad of the World Mephistopheles, holding a glass orb in his hand, sings
of his power over the world, in all its wickedness, laughing at the human
predicament. He dashes the glass orb to the ground, and the witches celebrate
the shattering of the world.
seems to see a girl, pale and in chains, his Margherita. Mephistopheles tells
him it is only a dream, but Faust still sees her tears and the mark on her
neck. The witches continue their celebration in a round dance and fugue.
The Death of Margherita
scene is a prison. Margherita is lying on a heap of straw, distracted and
singing. It is night and there is a lighted lamp against the wall. At the back
is a grating. She sings of the drowning of her baby, which they say was her
doing. Her soul seems to fly, as she calls for pity. Her mother had died, and
she was accused of killing her. Faust, outside, asks Mephistopheles to save
her, and the latter, with some reluctance, gives him the key.
enters the prison, and Margherita calls on him to help her, remembering, in her
delusion, their first meetings. She tells him that she has murdered her mother
and drowned her baby, and he must dig graves for them and for her. He urges her
to fly with him.
embrace, imagining the distant haven to which they will escape together.
appears, announcing the dawn and her coming execution. Margherita recognises
Satan and prays to be saved from him. Mephistopheles moves to look at the
grating, while Margherita lies fainting in the arms of Faust.
prepares to meet her death, praying to Heaven and the angels, and rejecting
Faust, who leaves with Mephistopheles, while the executioner approaches.
The Night of the Classical Sabbath
scene is set in the vale of Tempe. There are limpid streams and thickets of
laurel and oleander, lit by the light of the moon. Helen and Pantalis call on
the sirens and nymphs to sing to them. Faust calls out to Helen.
declares this the night of the classical Sabbath. Faust, entranced, goes out,
while Mephistopheles too seems under the spell of the place, so unlike his
familiar Harz mountains, with their witches.
leaves, as dancers enter, praising Helen.
however, recalls the horrors of the fall of Troy. Faust enters, dressed as a
knight of the fifteenth century. He kneels to Helen, protesting his love,
observed by fauns and sirens, and by Mephistopheles, in some wonder at the
The Death of Faust
The scene is again Faust’s study, now marked by the passing of time. There are
voices in the air, as Faust meditates, sitting in his chair. Behind him stands
Mephistopheles. It is night and the book stands, as before, on the lectern.
Mephistopheles urges Faust on his journey, as death draws near. Faust has
experienced real and ideal love, but the real was sorrow and the ideal a mere
wishes only for the good of humanity, the happiness of mankind, and Heaven, as
he journeys towards life’s end.
seeks to exert his power, but Faust seems to hear the celestial choir. The
tempter does his utmost, but Faust falls, leaning on the sacred volume before
him, as the heavenly vision appears to him. Mephistopheles finally sinks down,
under the flowers scattered by the celestial beings, as Heaven finally
This recording of Boito’s Mefistofele, the only one to
appear during the 78rpm era, was originally released by Italian Columbia in
1932 and three years later by Columbia’s American counterpart. I began to work
on this project using three sets of Italian pressings and four sets pressed in
America which I carefully compared. I soon found that although the American
discs played with less surface noise than those pressed in Italy, the sound was
so distorted as to render them totally useless. Apparently, the American sets
were all pressed from defective metal stampers. This defect also mars the
American Columbia pressings of Il trovatore and Andrea Chenier. This transfer
had to be made, therefore, exclusively from the somewhat noisier Italian Columbia
pressings. The original recording was made in a studio with no acoustic
ambiance. Therefore, I have taken the liberty of adding a slight amount of
artificial digital reverberation in order to give the voices a sense of space
and to soften the effects of the often too close microphone placement. I have,
likewise, added reverberation to the group of De Angelis solo recordings at the
end of CD two.
In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical
Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender
loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work
‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received
the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his
production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia
Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo
Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the
Best Historical Album Grammy.
Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of
thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a
stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a
reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording
made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.
In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number
of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive
sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label.
Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as
possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm
recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings
and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.
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BOITO: Mefistofele (de Angelis, Favero, Melandri) ...