Mefistofele is an opera in a prologue, four acts and an epilogue, the only completed opera with music by the Italian composer-librettist Arrigo Boito (there are several completed operas for which he was librettist only). The opera was given its premiere on March 5, 1868 at La Scala, Milan, under the baton of the composer, despite his lack of experience and skill as a conductor.
However, it was not a success and was immediately withdrawn after only two performances. Revisions in 1875 resulted in success in Bologna and, with further adjustments in 1876 for Venice, the opera was performed elsewhere.
Boito began consideration of an opera on the Faustian theme after completing his studies at the Milan Conservatory in 1861. Mefistofele is one of many pieces of classical music based on the Faust legend and, like many other composers, Boito used Goethe's version as his starting point. He was an admirer of Richard Wagner and, like him, chose to write his own libretto, something which was virtually unheard of in Italian opera up to that time. Much of the text is actually a literal translation from Goethe's German to Boito's Italian.
The most popular earlier work based on the legend was Charles Gounod's opera Faust, which Boito regarded as a superficial and frivolous treatment of a profound subject. Furthermore, Boito was contemptuous of what he saw as the low operatic standards prevailing in Italy at that time, and he determined to make his new work distinctive, both musically and intellectually, different from anything that had been heard before. He hoped that it would be a wake-up call and an inspiration to other young Italian composers.
Mefistofele – Nicolai Ghiaurov
Faust – Luciano Pavarotti
Margherita – Mirella Freni
Elena – Montserrat Caballe
Oliviero de Fabritiis – conductor
Decca -1985 (recorded in 1980)