Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
here is no other opera quite like Boito's "Mefistofele," with its stupendous prologue involving God Himself in dialogue with Lucifer, and orgies on the Brocken peak, as well as in Helen's Troy.
The music moves from vast choral episodes to passages from extreme intimacy. The central figure is the Devil in some of his most sardonic, menacing, vile moods. He is evil, desiring nothing but the destruction of human souls.
Tuesday night the New York City Opera brought the justly renowned production of "Mefistofele" into its current Kennedy Center run with a large measure of success.
The ovation that greeted Julius Rudel after the prologue was thoroughly merited by the grand manner of his controlling that huge introduction.
Superbly dominating the movement of the opera is Samuel Ramey's portrayal of this Mefisto. His voice is filled with hatred of mankind, his actions directed solely toward the ruin of those he can snare. In his movements, Ramey hints at the animal that lurks in the Devil, the lusts that spoil the innocence of the world, the desires that cause human downfall. To the extent that Ramsey is a reflection of director Tito Capobianco's view of Boito's masterpiece, he sheds luster on the director.
There are in the production, however, large quantities of corn and ham generously mixed.
The chorus and ballet work well against these, as do the principals when they can. Joanna Meier is miscast as Margherita, but marvelously apt as Helen, illustrating again the wrongness of trying to use a single singer in both roles. Kenneth Collins struggled with the role of Faust, often losing control of his voice to the point of severe problems in intonation, some of which infected Meier in her initial scene.
The sets of David Mitchell were major factors in the triumph of the production, with Hans Sondheimer's intricate lighting, when it worked, equally laudable.
Rudel's command of the intricacies of the score was the chief factor in bringing off one of opera's difficult assignments.