Devilishly Good: Nicola Luisotti Soars Through Mefistofele in Valencia

A. Boito, Mefistofele: Soloists, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Escolanía de la Mare de Deu dels Desamparats. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti. Auditóri Palau de Les Arts de Valencia. 27.4.2011 (JMI)

Concert performance


Mefistofele: Ildar Abdrazakov
Fausto: Ramón Vargas
Margherita: Yannick-Muriel Noah
Helena: Lucrezia García
Marta/Pantalis: María Luisa Corbacho
Wagner/Nereo: Javier Agulló

Photo courtesy Palau de Les Arts de Valencia

Valencia’s Palau de Les Arts had a good idea in offering Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele, an outstanding opera that has inexplicably become a rarity on stage, even if it was ‘just’ in a concert performance. I fondly remember attending a stage performance of Mefistofele at the Madrid Teatro de la Zarzuela in the 80s with Nesterenko and Caballé. Later in the 90s I saw a concert version at Bilbao Teatro Arriaga with Paata Burchuladze as the Mefistofele and Francisco Araiza as Faust. Since then I have only seen a couple of very modest performances of this opera in Palma di Majorca… altogether not a whole lot in 25 years for such an important opera. Fortunately the result of this concert version was spectacular in musical terms and just well enough cast, too.

The musical direction was Italian Nicola Luisotti’s, who offered a spectacular reading of the work and proved once again that in the Italian repertoire he is a real benchmark. He is a conductor in his prime, with astonishing energy and an absolute control of all the forces under his command. To this we should add a great care to support voices… in a word a superb performance from one of the best conductors of his generation in this repertoire. Among the real winners is clearly the San Francisco Opera who named him their music director in 2009. The Valencia Orchestra is rightly thought as Spain’s best and at its best a match for top orchestras of any theatre. That’s certainly true when they have an outstanding conductor, which is what has happened on this occasion, with a result that sounded wonderful from beginning to end. The other positive surprise of the evening was the performance of the amateur Choir who has reached an excellent level in just 5.

The cast offered well known names and most of them were very interesting on paper, even if the result was less than might have been expected… largely due to the acoustic deficiencies of the auditorium of the Palau de Les Arts de Valencia. The difference to the main hall, where opera performances take place, is quite remarkable. Voices have serious difficulties in reaching the audience here, unless they are perfectly projected which is not too common. Maestro Luisotti seemed to be aware of this problem and he paid special attention to the volume of the orchestra during the arias of the protagonists.

Russian bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov was Mefistofele, replacing the previously announced, less well known, Orlin Anastasov. Mr. Abdrazakov is a great singer with a beautiful voice who knows how to handle it perfectly. But he’s not the true bass that the role demands and I missed more amplitude as he was penalized by the acoustics. Something similar, even more pronounced, happend to Ramón Vargas’ Fausto. No question he is a very good singer with a beautiful voice and an elegant line, but I find him too light for the character and the voice tends to remain at the back of the stage, even more so under these acoustic circumstances. He was at his best in his final aria “Giunto sul passo estremo.”

Canadian soprano Yannick-Muriel Noah was a good Marguerita, with an expressive instrument and room to mature and pitch problems (in the second part of the wonderful aria “L’altra notte in fondo al mare”) to work on. The powerful, truly Verdian voice—a rare treat these days—of Venezuelan soprano Lucrezia Garcia made her an excellent Helen.

Attendance—about 85%—suffered from the concurrent “El Clásico”, the football match between Madrid and Barcelona… but those who showed up showed their enthusiasm and pleasure from the very beginning, with a triumphal reception for the artists, particularly the orchestra led by Nicola Luisotti, the real hero of the evening.

José MªIrurzun