Opera by Arrigo Boito (1842 – 1918)
Libretto by the composer, based on Goethe’s Faust
24. September 2022
In Italian with German surtitles
2 hours 40 minutes, one intermission
For adults and young people from age 14
Who owns the world? In Mefistofele, God and the devil, the two authorities on good and evil and competitors in the struggle for control over humanity since time immemorial, place a bet on Faust. Who is the top gambler in the game of power? Whose promises of bliss are the most appealing? The story of Faust, which has been a source for artworks throughout the centuries, once again asks the question: Who rules the world – God, the devil or humans themselves? And it puts a contemporary slant on it: Where will an uninhibited striving for power lead us?
As the librettist of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff, the Italian Arrigo Boito is ever-present on the opera stage. But his own opera Mefistofele, too, which was based on Italian translations of scenes from Goethe’s tragedy Faust, is currently making frequent appearances in opera programming. Boito’s choice of title character shows that it is not Faust, the man, who is at the centre of attention (as he was in Goethe’s play), but rather Mefistofele, the tempter. By adding his own text passages, Boito steers the material towards a new perspective full of sarcastic punchlines. Besides this, he stages heavenly choirs of angels and brilliant brass instruments in grandiose visual and acoustic scenes and lets both spheres fight over the world and humanity, sometimes with ponderous meaning, sometimes with irony.
Mefistofele presents a universal cosmos of present correspondences between hope and apocalypse. As musical director, Stephan Zilias searches for places in both the highest heights and the deepest depths of the stage area for the sounds of the respective spheres. This production marks director Elisabeth Stöppler’s return to Hanover after Trionfo. Vier letzte Nächte. Her empathetically analytical approach is focussed by Joki Tewes and Jana Findeklee (set, costumes) who equip Mefistofele with astonishing metaphors and unholy images that delight in playing on clichés of heaven and hell.
Between heaven on earth and hell on earth, mankind has been always been faced with the age-old biblical threat of temptation: Who and what is tempting us? How far are we willing to go to fulfil our hearts’ desires and which consequences will we hazard? Faust, who starts out as an “Everyman”, elevates himself to a godlike character in a delusion of grandeur fuelled by Mefistofele’s promises of omnipotence. However, his ego trip does not lead to gratification but rather into the loneliness of a self-created world that is not viable and destroys itself.
Boito’s music combines the late Romantic era with Modernism. It is aware of Wagner’s powerful sounds and yet remains Italian; it presents heavenly and infernal choir tableaus and melodious wallowing arias in Margherita’s gaol scene; it uses sound effects when Mefistofele literally flouts God, the world and mankind with diabolical sounds and infernal laughter.